Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Two of three CMS board seats will change hands

Updated 6:15 Wednesday to correct some garbled paragraphs: So this is a strange twist. When De Shauna McLamb announced her candidacy in March, I checked in with the three incumbents about their plans. Kaye McGarry said she hadn't decided. Joe White had been very clear about not running again. And Trent Merchant said he probably should play coy, but yes, he planned to run again.

I was vague about that in yesterday's post because I'd been hearing folks say Trent was not running. I couldn't reach him before posting, but in an email sent last night, he says he basically blurted out a lie when I asked:

"I am not running for re-election this fall," Merchant wrote.

"I made my decision in November 2009. I informed Dr. Gorman in August 2010, Eric Davis in November 2010 - and have been telling others in recent weeks."

"In the early Spring of this year, at the end of a lengthy conversation on another topic, you asked me in passing if I was running and I blurted out a quick 'yes.' I wish that I had said something more cagey and politician-sounding, but that has never been my strong suit - and I was not ready to make my decision public until I had the chance to inform certain people privately."

"I will have served on the Board of Education for over 5 years at the end of my term, and it has been an honor to serve the people of Mecklenburg County. I thank them for the opportunity, and will be eternally grateful. My family, friends, and work colleagues have been incredibly supportive during the past 5 years; now it is time for me to devote more attention to them."

So now it's at least two of the three at-large members who will be new. McGarry sends this: "At this moment, I have not made a final decision. I am still reflecting on the accomplishments during my 2 terms (2003-present) serving all the children and families in Mecklenburg County, and am considering the upcoming challenges and how my experience and dedication might continue to serve public education should I decide to run for a third term."

With all the furor over school closings, teacher layoffs and a barrage of new testing, the prospect of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board election this fall has almost gotten lost.

Elyse Dashew, a parent leader at Smith Language Academy and a founder of MeckFUTURE, kicks off her campaign this week, and filing takes place the first two weeks of July. That means we should start getting a glimpse of what the race for three at-large seats will look like (the six district posts aren't up until 2013).

Elyse Dashew
During the last three years of budget cuts, Dashew has spent a lot of time trying to figure out what all the change will mean for her kids' school. From there she started looking at the bigger picture and getting to know families from various schools. MeckFUTURE, launched in March, mobilized folks from about 40 of CMS' 178 schools to lobby county officials for money to avert the massive layoffs projected for 2011-12.

Amidst all the turmoil, she says, there's a common thread: People really care about CMS. "There's so much energy around education," she said Tuesday. "A lot of times its expressed as frustration or anger or anxiety."

So far, Dashew's themes are pretty broad: She wants to get people constructively engaged and help the board work together. She's a first-time candidate and an unaffiliated voter, something she thinks would be a plus on a board that's ostensibly nonpartisan (the current makeup is four Democrats, three Republicans and two unaffiliated).

Dashew joins De Shauna McLamb, a CMS parent and NAACP member who announced her candidacy in March, and Hans Plotseneder, a West Meck teacher who has run twice before and plans to make a formal announcement of this year's candidacy soon. Tim Morgan, elected to represent south suburban District 6 two years ago, is mulling a bid for a countywide seat. At least one newcomer will take a seat, with Joe White stepping down at the end of this term.

It's a sign of the times that Dashew scheduled her formal announcement for Thursday but "soft-launched" via Facebook and Twitter last week. I returned from vacation and saw that a fan had tweeted her campaign web site.

Another sign of the times: We'll be relying more than ever on the web to get details of the school board campaign to the folks who care while making the best use of limited print space. During the 2009 campaign, I was frustrated at how little space we were able to dedicate to each of the 19 candidates. Since then we've launched this blog, which has opened faster and better ways to connect with the readers who care most about education. Keep me and Eric posted on what you're hearing and what you'd like to see to make informed choices.

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