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In NC’s largest school district, a race for control over schools

"Vote"Much of the attention in recent months has centered on the presidential election and a bitterly contested, close contest between Gov. Pat McCrory and his challenger, Attorney General Roy Cooper.

But in Wake County, home to North Carolina’s largest school district, it’s worth noting that control of the Wake County Public School System Board of Education is also up for grabs.

All nine seats, including the seat held by Chairman Tom Benton, are on the ballot. Control of the school system has been a hot-button issue in recent years. A 2009 conservative takeover of the board led to the dismantling of the district’s diversity school assignment policy, a change that, as Policy Watch has reported, wrought major changes in the makeup of the large district’s schools.

Still, most observers aren’t expecting major changes to come from today’s vote for the school board as four of the nine races are uncontested.

Here’s The News & Observer‘s T. Keung Hui for a breakdown:

In District 1, which includes northern and eastern Wake, voters will decide whether to reward school board Chairman Tom Benton with another term. Benton has had the benefit of a larger campaign war chest to be able to send out campaign mailers.

Benton’s endorsements include Wake NCAE, the Wake County Democratic Party and several area elected officials.

Of the other three District 1 candidates, Mary Beth Ainsworth and Sheila Ellis haven’t had much money to get out their messages. Donald Agee, who has been endorsed by the Wake County Republican Party, has had slightly more cash available

Unlike past elections, there will not be a run-off if a candidate fails to get a majority of the votes. That could potentially help a candidate like Benton who has name recognition with opposition split among multiple opponents.

In District 2, which mainly includes Garner, Willow Spring and parts of Fuquay-Varina, school board Vice Chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler is also hoping her name recognition will lead her to victory. Her endorsements include Wake NCAE and the Wake County Democratic Party.

Mark Ivey suspended his campaign to try to improve Peter Hochstaetter’s chances of defeating Johnson-Hostler. Hochstaetter’s endorsements include the Wake County GOP.

In District 4, school board member Keith Sutton is expected to handily defeat challenger Heather Elliott in a contest to represent Southeast Raleigh and parts of Knightdale and Garner. Elliott has not mounted any kind of campaign.

District 8, which includes much of southwest Wake, is the only contested race on the ballot where there is no incumbent running. School board member Susan Evans is running for a seat in the N.C. Senate.

Of the three District 8 candidates, Gary Lewis has had by far the most campaign money. He’s also being supported by some of the current school board members, including Kushner and Martin. Wake NCAE is also endorsing Lewis even though one of his opponents, Lindsay Mahaffey, is a teacher.

Gil Pagan is endorsed by the Wake County Republican Party.

Get out and vote.

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