Incumbent Tom Benton is one of four Wake County school board candidates gaining a financial edge from the Democratic Party.
Benton leads challenger Don McIntyre in fundraising efforts by about $4,620 in their race for the District 1 school board seat, according to finance reports filed last week. District 1 includes Wendell, Zebulon, Wake Forest, Rolesville and part of Knightdale.
Benton, a Zebulon Democrat, collected about $7,960 in campaign donations by Sept. 3, the reports show. McIntyre, a Wake Forest Republican, collected about $3,340.
Municipal and school board elections are officially nonpartisan. But each of Wake County’s two main political parties announced their endorsements in recent weeks – and candidates backed by the Wake County Democratic Party have a clear financial advantage.
In District 2, Democrat Monika Johnson-Hostler leads Matt Scruggs by about $4,900. In District 7, Democrat Zora Felton leads incumbent Republican Deborah Prickett by about $8,100. Both candidates vying for the District 9 school board seat are registered Republicans. But incumbent Bill Fletcher is endorsed by the Democratic Party and leads challenger Nancy Caggia by about $5,880.
Ron Margiotta, a former Wake school board chairman, said parents and election observers shouldn’t be surprised by the disparity between candidates. He cited two reasons: Republican donors may be disinterested because the GOP can’t regain control of the nine-member school board even if they win each of the four seats up for election; also, Margiotta doesn’t think student assignment is as controversial as it was when Republicans previously took control.
“It took us 10 years to generate enough interest on the part of parents hurt by the assignment policy,” said Margiotta, a Republican, referring to when his party won control of the school board in 2009.
The county is now operating under an assignment policy designed by a Republican-controlled school board, but modified by the Democrat-controlled board to restore the goal of limiting the percentages of low-income students at individual schools, which the former Republican majority had eliminated.
Margiotta said parents may find assignment problems once they get more experience with the policy. But this year, “I just don’t see any major issues to run on,” he said.
Benton, a retired principal appointed by the board in February to finish the term of Chris Malone, has touted his resume in saying he’ll keep parents satisfied. Benton holds a master’s degree in school administration, a bachelor’s degree in secondary education, and worked for 32 years in Wake County schools.
Four retired educators and two former school board members – Democrat Lori Millberg and Roxie Cash, a registered Republican – donated to Benton. He also got a donation from Durant Road Elementary Principal Teresa Winstead, who was an assistant principal at Durant Road Middle when Benton was principal there. His biggest donor thus far is Ann Campbell, who was one of the largest individual donors to the Democrat-backed school board candidates in 2011. Campbell gave $2,500 to Benton in August.
McIntyre, a retired attorney running on a neighborhood-schools platform, has also garnered support from high-profile donors within his party.
Conservative businessman Bob Luddy, who funded the successful Republican effort of 2009, gave McIntyre $1,000. Luddy founded Thales Academy, a Triangle-area network of private schools. State Rep. Jim Fulghum, a Raleigh Republican, gave McIntyre $250.
The election is Oct. 8.