CHARLOTTE, NC (Ann Doss Helms/The Charlotte Observer) - All three incumbents took the lead in early voting for Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board seats, while the candidates endorsed by departing board members also pulled an early lead in their races.
If the results hold, it means there will be little change in the political makeup or educational philosophy of the board. Coupled with approval of a record $922 million in school bonds, the results will likely be seen as a vote of support for a board that has steered CMS through a rocky couple of years that featured a superintendent search and a student assignment review.
Tuesday's vote determines who represents the county's six districts for the next four years, with three at-large seats remaining unchanged until the 2019 election.
The school board oversees one of America's largest public school districts, with more than 147,000 students, 19,000 employees and a $1.4 billion budget.
The new board will be sworn in in December and will work with Superintendent Clayton Wilcox, who started the job in July, on such tasks as executing student assignment changes, increasing magnet options and ensuring a high-quality education is available in all schools, including dozens that have extremely high poverty levels and low test scores.
Rhonda Lennon, who is seeking a third term representing the north part of the county, held the lead with early voting and six of the district's 23 precincts reporting.
Lennon had 40.58 percent, with 32.33 percent for Annette Albright and 21.34 percent for Jess Miller.
Lennon, a Republican who lives in Cornelius, is a CMS parent who organized families to seek relief from school crowding more than a decade ago. She lost her first bid for the seat in 2005, but has served on the board since 2009.
Miller and Albright are Democrats and first-time candidates who live in north Charlotte. Miller is an educator and social justice activist who plans to open a charter school in Rowan County next year. Albright is a former CMS substitute teacher, tutor and behavior modification technician who is suing the school board over her 2016 dismissal, which came after she was attacked by Harding High students. Albright says she'll bring accountability to the district.
Amy Moon Hallman was also on the ballot but changed her mind and never campaigned. She got 5.04 percent of early votes.
Thelma Byers-Bailey, a retired lawyer seeking a second term, took the lead to represent the west-southwest Charlotte district, with early voting and 17 of the district's 30 precincts reporting. She had 58.43 percent, compared with 40.7 percent for Lenora Shipp.
Shipp, a retired principal who spent 33 years working for CMS, is making her first run for office. Both are West Charlotte High School graduates with deep ties to the area.
Ruby Jones, who was appointed to the seat three years ago, held the lead over five other candidates to represent northeast Charlotte, with early voting and five of the district's 24 precincts reporting. Jones pulled 30.89 percent of those votes.
Jones, a retired CMS educator and professor, took over the school board seat after Joyce Waddell, who was elected in 2009, won a state senate seat in 2010.
Janeen Bryant, making her second run for school board, had 23.71 percent. She is a CMS parent and former Teach For America teacher who has worked in nonprofit and advocacy groups related to education.
Other candidates are Blanche Penn, a longtime education advocate making her first run for office (17.43 percent); first-time candidate Emmitt Terrell Butts, a Cabarrus County teacher (12.31 percent); 25-year-old Olivia Scott, a political newcomer who is the youngest of all the school board candidates (9.44 percent); and Levester Flowers, a retired banker making his second run for school board (5.58 percent).
Carol Sawyer, a former CMS parent and longtime school activist, took the lead for the east Charlotte seat being vacated by Tom Tate. She had 50.49 percent with early voting and 30 of the district's 36 precincts reporting.
Tate, who has held the District 4 seat for 12 years, endorsed Sawyer for the post.
Stephanie Sneed, a lawyer and CMS parent making her first run for office, pulled 29.69 percent.
Also running is Queen Thompson, a retired social worker making her third run for school board, who got 19.17 percent.
Margaret Marshall took a strong lead in the District 5 race with 64.18 percent of the votes cast by early voters and 41 of the district's 52 precincts. A former CMS parent with a long history of volunteering in schools, Marshall has the endorsement of Eric Davis, who is vacating the seat after eight years. She has raised more than $50,000, far more than any other board candidate, in her quest to represent the south-central district that includes some of Charlotte's most affluent neighborhoods. Marshall is an unaffiliated voter making her first run for office.
Lawyer Jeremy Stephenson had 20.01 percent. He ran at large in 2015, falling just short of the votes needed to take one of the three seats. Although he enrolled his daughter in a charter school rather than CMS, he has stayed active in district advocacy and has strong Republican support for his candidacy.
Also running is CMS parent Jim Peterson, who has run for Charlotte City Council and Mecklenburg County commissioner but is making his first try for school board. He received 15.34 percent.
Sean Strain, a CMS parent who became active in district-level politics during the recent student assignment review, took the lead over Allen Smith with 55.88 percent of votes cast by early voters and 11 of the district's 31 precincts. Both are first time candidates seeking to replace Paul Bailey, who served one term representing the south suburban district. Bailey, who ran for Matthews mayor this year, endorsed Strain.
Strain, a Republican, helped create CMS Families United for Public Education, which lobbied the board to protect successful neighborhood schools while offering magnets as options.