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Navigating Wake County's school board races

A Wake County Public Schools bus.
Brian Batista
A Wake County Public Schools bus.

The upcoming midterm election includes many school board races across the state. In Wake County, all nine board seats will be on the ballot and a slew of candidates have stepped up to run.

WUNC Education Reporter Liz Schlemmer joined Morning Edition Host Will Michaels to cut through some of that noise.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Michaels: School board meetings have become especially contentious in recent years. What are some of the major issues on people's minds there?

Schlemmer: Candidates have made frequent appearances at these public comment periods. I [spoke] to the Wake County PTA council about statewide issues. They're holding forums where they've invited all the candidates and they're asking questions that were submitted by parents. Some of the common questions that have come up in those are about teacher and staff shortages, what school districts can do to retain teachers and bus drivers. And mind you, in North Carolina, those salaries are controlled more by the state legislature actually, then by county officials.

Then there's also things coming up on the Wake School Board's agenda, things like implementing a newly adopted strategic plan, planning for the next school facilities bond — there's going to be a bond on this ballot too — and enacting a new equity policy."

Michaels: The Wake County School Board has this wide field of candidates that we alluded to earlier, but specifically a total of 29 candidates for nine seats. Do you have any advice for voters there to start to parse out who is running?

Schlemmer: It's such a wide field that I don't even want to talk about any single candidate because we would inevitably leave someone out. But the good news is those nine seats all have specific districts. So you only need to focus on the two to five candidates who are running to represent where you live. You can google your district, or look up your sample ballot and check out your local voter guides.

There are also candidate forums that you can watch online. The League of Women Voters of Wake County and the Wake PTA Council, which are both nonpartisan groups have hosted these forums, and you can watch the videos on YouTube for your district.

Michaels: All nine seats are open and only four incumbents are running. So that means the makeup of the board will without a doubt change. So why are all nine seats up for election?

Schlemmer: The short answer is that this is part of an effort to get the board back to four-year staggered terms. Staggered, meaning that they won't all be up for election at the same time starting next election. The long answer has to do with the complex aftermath of a law that the General Assembly passed in 2013. That changed the Wake County School Board districts and their terms, that law was successfully challenged in court, and the board is now seeking to reset their terms.

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.
Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email:
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