Statewide, a third of North Carolina’s school board seats were on the ballot Tuesday. Republicans had a rough night in many urban races, but in New Hanover County, home of coastal city Wilmington, Republicans swept all four seats on the board of education. The board had been 5-2 Democrat, but after the election will now be 5-2 Republican.

Voters choose their top four candidates, so both Democrats and Republicans ran four candidates to avoid diluting their vote. The four Republicans won about 13% each, while the four Democrats won about 12% each. While the outcome was fairly close, there is no indication that a recount will be held.

Pat Bradford, who is the publisher of Wrightsville Beach Magazine, gained the most votes. She, along with Josie Barnhart and Melissa Mason, will be new faces on the board, while Pete Wildeboer was the only incumbent among the Republican victors.

Lindy Ford is director of development for Tide Turners, a non-profit that focused on flipping the New Hanover Board of Education. CJ featured the group back in April. Ford reached out to Carolina Journal to discuss the group’s success.

“About a year ago, we decided to only focus on the NHC BOE race,” Ford said. “We were told that a clean sweep was impossible… It was certainly a David and Goliath battle.”

Ford said that their opponents had funding from George Soros-backed groups with deep pockets, called Progress NC Action Ie PAC.

But she said despite that money and well-organized opposition, they were able to help the candidates across the finish line. Ford said her team, especially Elizabeth their strategic marketing manager, made it possible. Radio was a big focus for the campaign. Gathering good data was also crucial.

“Elizabeth dug into our 2022 teacher surveys and found teachers crying out about discipline, low academic standards and dysfunction among the BOE members,” Ford said. “We used all that. 
We also launched a successful social campaign including YouTube. We did the usual things as well–text messages, signs and mailers.”

Ford said local GOP leaders have reached out and said without Tide Turners’ efforts, the wins may not have been possible.

This year, school board races got more attention than they generally do after government shutdowns of public schools in 2020-2021, mandatory face masks, and Critical Race Theory debates ignited parents to get more engaged. Of the state’s 115 school districts, 41 have partisan races, up from just 10 a decade ago.

In Wake County, around the capital of Raleigh, five of the nine board members decided not to run again. Two new conservative members, Cheryl Caulfield and Wing Ng, were elected, but Democrats still hold seven of the nine seats. Voters in neighboring Johnston County also elected three conservatives to join their school board.

In Charlotte, six of nine Mecklenburg County school board seats were on the ballot. Two Republican incumbents lost their seats to challengers, but one new conservative was elected. North of Charlotte, in the Iredell-Statesville county school board races, Republicans swept the election, now holding a majority there. In Union County, where school the school board made masks optional and allowed students to return to the classroom earlier than more urban areas during COVID shutdowns, voters elected a Republican to fill the only empty seat. Union now has just one Democrat on their school board.

Correction: An earlier version stated that the board had been 4-3 Democrat majority before the election. It has been corrected to show it had been 5-2 Democrat majority.