Board Of Education Primary: The Dust Has Settled – What Have We Learned?

Op-Ed By: Chuck Williams, MD
Candidate For Johnston County School Board

Now that the dust has settled on the Board of Education election what have we learned from the results?

Having participated as a candidate running for office the first time I was personally inspired by all the wonderful citizens I met on the campaign trail who care deeply about our school system.

I was introduced to a diverse group of sincere candidates for the Board of Education who wanted to be part of the solution. Through several candidate forums we had an opportunity to hash out policies that we think should guide our schools moving forward.

Let’s walk through some common assumptions that were held by many observers prior to the primary.  Since we are focusing on the school board election it’s only appropriate to present some true and false questions.

The race will draw a large number of candidates:  TRUE

An historic number of candidates – sixteen in all – filed for the race.  The campaign was short and intense given the early primary date.  Signs flew up, many events were held and ultimately the field of sixteen was narrowed to eight for the fall election.

Local interest in the race will drive historic voter turnout:  FALSE

Even candidates in other local races assumed that interest in the Board of Education race would drive a high turnout in the primary. After all, citizens were concerned about the direction of the school system and the controversies of the past year so they will come to the polls in record numbers, right? Wrong.

Despite the expectations, voter turnout in the primary was lower than the last presidential primary year of 2016.  In fact, only 29.5% of registered voters turned out to vote.

Incumbents and those connected with the school system may be in trouble: False

This was possibly the most puzzling of all our assumptions that were proven wrong.  Popular thinking suggested that given all the bad publicity of the past year outsider candidates would have a distinct advantage in the election. In fact, only two of the sixteen candidates with no connection to the school system or prior service on the Board of Education advanced into the top eight.

Three of the eight winners were incumbents currently serving, one served on the board previously for many years and two are long time school system employees. Only two of the winners were fresh faces with no connection to the school system.

The school system itself will emerge from the primary with some renewed hope for the future:  TRUE and FALSE?

There was some hope that the primary might be the first step in bringing some healing and hope to a fractured board and system with low morale.

In some senses there were positives that emerged from the primary process:

  • The inspiration of seeing sixteen candidates file to run for the board showed there are citizens willing to sacrifice their personal time, energy, and money to help our system improve.
  • Well-attended candidate forums showed a passion for hearing about policy issues that are important to the electorate.

At the same time serious challenges remain which must be addressed:

  • The hiring of the new superintendent is far and away the most important decision to be made in 2020 and will likely happen before the new board is elected. He or she will set the direction for the system moving forward.
  • Managing the extraordinary growth of the county will require a level of cooperation not yet seen between the county commissioners and the Board of Education to adequately fund our burgeoning student population.
  • Public trust must be restored.  Citizens have to believe that the board is competent and unified enough to manage the budget, personnel issues, plan for growth and outline priorities for the system.

I for one am optimistic about the future of our system. We have some amazing teachers, administrators, and ancillary employees that have a passion for educating students. We have parents passionate about providing – and demanding – an excellent education for their children.  Our ongoing population growth, while a big challenge, will only serve to strengthen the system further.

What will the remainder of the year hold as we move into the spring, summer and the fall election?  As an office seeker, parent, taxpayer and keenly interested observer I wouldn’t recommend you bet on anything for certain.

Chuck Williams, MD is a family physician with Horizon Family Medicine of Clayton, a father of three high school students, and a candidate for the Johnston County Board of Education.