As part of our elections coverage, QCity Metro invited readers to submit questions to our reporting team, which we seek to answer in a way that provides factual information free of politics. Read more at the end of this article.
Where can I get more information to better understand the school board candidates and their true beliefs? Campaign rhetoric doesn’t always indicate how a person will vote once in office.
Stay informed with news and events that impact Charlotte’s Black communities.
The nine-member Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education governs nearly all aspects of the county’s public schools, from setting broad policies to approving the selection of individual principals.
Voters in each of the board’s six districts elect one board member. Three additional members are elected to fill at-large seats. All school board members serve four-year terms.
The board is responsible for operating the school district and overseeing enforcement of school laws. During the pandemic, the board made decisions regarding closing schools and remote learning. Other issues that board members are expected to be involved with include decisions about curriculum and sex and health education, selecting school boundary lines and sites for new schools, and choosing a new superintendent.
Of the 18 candidates running for seats on the board, four are incumbents. This means the next school board could be filled with lots of new people with little or no track record indicating how they’ll vote once elected. And because the board races are nonpartisan, political party affiliation does not appear on the ballot.
One way to get a deeper understanding of how a candidate may act if elected is to review endorsements from groups whose opinions you share.
Examples of groups that provide endorsements include:
EqualityNC, an LGBTQ rights group
Success4CMS, self-described as non-partisan, does not share donor information
Mecklenburg’s Moms For Liberty chapter, a conservative group advocating for parental rights in schools
North Carolina Values Coalition, a conservative Christian organization
You can also look at who supports a candidate financially by reviewing campaign finance reports.
Also, The Charlotte Ledger recently analyzed the voting records of the four school board incumbents who are seeking re-election.
That analysis is printed below, with permission from The Ledger:
Four Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education members are running for re-election next week — and curiously, the campaign hasn’t centered much on key votes they have cast over their last few years on the board.
Test scores have plunged, the district has been embroiled in lawsuits over its handling of sexual assault cases and the revolving door of superintendents is continuing. Most voter guides on the school board race just ask candidates their plans for the future, which is fine — but what about their actual votes when they counted?
We went back through our archives and dug up the votes of the four incumbents — Thelma Byers-Bailey, Rhonda Cheek, Carol Sawyer and Sean Strain — on two big issues: the Covid-era return to classrooms and the handling of then-Superintendent Earnest Winston.
Covid: Byers-Bailey and Sawyer voted consistently with the superintendent’s recommendations to extend remote learning. Strain consistently voted to return students to classrooms faster. Cheek mostly voted for quicker returns to the classroom.
Superintendent: All board members except Strain voted in 2021 to extend Winston’s contract. All incumbents running for re-election except Byers-Bailey voted to fire Winston in April.
July 15, 2020: Proposal by CMS to go to all-remote learning for start of 2020-21 school year
- Voting yes: Byers-Bailey, Sawyer; said CMS would not be in a position to open safely
- Voting no: Strain; said risks of keeping kids home were too great
- Abstaining: Cheek; said health experts indicated it’s safe
(Source: Charlotte Ledger, July 16, 2020)
Sept. 15, 2020: Proposal by CMS to return students to school beginning Nov. 2, one week in class, two weeks remote
- Voting yes: Byers-Bailey, Sawyer; who said it was sensible
- Voting no: Strain, Cheek; who said they wanted students in classes faster
(Source: Charlotte Ledger, Sept. 16, 2020)
Nov. 10, 2020: Proposal by CMS to postpone return to classrooms for middle school students from November to January because of bus driver shortage
- Voting yes: Byers-Bailey, Sawyer
(Source: Charlotte Ledger, Oct. 10, 2020)
Dec. 8, 2020: Proposal by CMS to go all-virtual until mid-January 2021, as surge of Covid cases put Mecklenburg in “red zone”
- Voting yes: Byers-Bailey, Sawyer; who said students’ health was primary concern
- Voting no: Strain, Cheek; who said students were suffering from remote learning
Jan. 14, 2021: Proposal by CMS to postpone return to class until February, following country health department’s non-binding “directive” urging residents to stay home
- Voting yes: Byers-Bailey, Cheek, Sawyer
(Source: Charlotte Ledger, Jan. 14, 2021)
Feb. 23, 2021: Extend Superintendent Earnest Winston’s contract through 2025 and give him a 3% raise, add paid leave
- Voting yes: Byers-Bailey, Cheek, Sawyer
(Source: Charlotte Observer, Feb. 24, 2021)
April 19, 2022: Fire Superintendent Earnest Winston
- Voting yes: Cheek, Sawyer, Strain
(Source: Charlotte Ledger, April 19, 2022)
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For much of 2022, our reporters and editors have taken part in a nationwide fellowship called Democracy SOS, which encourages newsrooms to reimagine how they cover elections, with a goal to build civic engagement, equity and healthy discourse.
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What are the issues that matter most as your prepare to vote in this key election? And what related questions can our QCity Metro reporters help answer?
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