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Baldwin-McMahon contest will highlight BOE elections

Cindy McMahon RS

Cindy McMahon

Fight for Reynolds district seat will be main event on this fall’s card

Over here is the challenger, Cindy McMahon, a political newcomer who is a consultant to small businesses and nonprofits, and is also a housewife and mother. She has an M.A. in English from Chapel Hill and a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke. She served as Director of Operations for the Asheville YWCA’s capital fund campaign, and as coordinator of the Asheville/Buncombe County United Way’s volunteer center. Prior to coming to Asheville in 2002,, she was Director of the Orange County Literacy Council. She has already garnered several endorsements.

In the other corner is the lady McMahon hopes to replace: Lisa Carpenter Baldwin: wife, mother, community volunteer, M.S. in Economics (University of Maryland), Mensa member, recipient of the 2012 Pacesetter Alumni Award from the UNC-G School of Health and Human Sciences (where she got her Bachelor’s degree), first member of a school board ever to be awarded the James Knox Polk Award for Leadership in Public Service, and – from the time of her election in 2008 – gadfly-in-residence to the Buncombe County BOE.

In announcing her candidacy, McMahon said, “It would be an honor to use my strong leadership skills, comprehensive education, and business administration experience to give back and strengthen our schools. I enjoy coming together with others to solve problems, and would like to use those skills to advocate for the students in our public schools.” A flurry of recent letter-to-the-editor endorsements shows she is already developing a support base. McMahon also has a ready-made and well-placed constituency among members of various county governmental entities – including the Board of Education – for whom her greatest asset, over and above her other qualifications, is that she is not Lisa Baldwin.

Lisa baldwin RS

Baldwin’s 2010 election to the BOE was a landslide. In a four-way race, she captured 50.75 per cent of the total votes cast – more than her three opponents combined. The BOE is technically nonpartisan but Baldwin’s lopsided victory as an unabashed conservative in a county that went Democratic by a 60-40 margin that year was an anomaly. With such a mandate, political observers said, she could probably rest assured of multiple terms in office – provided she kept her mouth shut and didn’t make waves.

But that wasn’t what happened.

Her friends describe Baldwin as an intellectual who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Her detractors have other ways of putting it. Whatever her chemistry, it had a volatile reaction with that of the BOE almost from the beginning. Baldwin displayed a penchant for asking questions of a more detailed nature than the board appeared to be prepared to deal with. In such cases, Baldwin has shown no hesitation in bypassing the board and contacting outside parties directly for her answers, then coming back and reporting her findings to her dismayed colleagues.

Early in 2012 the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources sent Supt. Tony Baldwin a letter saying it had been contacted by a school board member regarding possible groundwater contamination at the site of the BOE offices, where a new STEM school was to be built. The member, of course, was Lisa Baldwin. State officials traveled to Asheville and held two separate meetings, one with Baldwin, the other with school administrators. The school went forward. Baldwin was called obstructionist and blamed for causing an unnecessary delay in the school’s construction.

Undeterred by administrative rebukes and warnings, Baldwin continued to pursue her own lines of inquiry on issues ranging from curricula to teacher pay. Concomitantly, board members collectively and individually mounted personal attacks against her. Board member Pat Bryant questioned the content of her master’s degree. A media feeding frenzy developed when she responded to an admonition from the superintendent by asking, “Next time I come in here, should I say, ‘Heil, Hitler?’ “ (The Asheville Citizen-Times reported Baldwin gave a Nazi salute as she said this, which earned her additional condemnation, particularly from leaders of the Jewish community. When an examination of the meeting’s videotape revealed no such salute, AC-T columnist John Boyle grudgingly admitted evidence of the salute was “inconclusive.”) Shortly afterwards, board members received an anonymous letter calling for Baldwin’s public censure and detailing exactly how such an action could be undertaken.

Most recently Baldwin has been engaged in a budgetary firefight with fellow board members over funding of school supplies versus possible cuts to the teacher assistance program as a means of operating within the current budget. Her position drew immediate fire from member Amy Churchill, who, in a Facebook post, said, “Ms. Baldwin would rather harp on the decrease spending in instructional supplies than focus on where our priorities should really be. Teachers and assistants make the difference. I will continue to buy my own pencils if it means more money for these positions!”

In a recent interview, Baldwin compared Buncombe County Schools budget with that of New Hanover/Wilmington, whose school and student demograpics closey resemble Buncombe County’s. She has made the comparison several times, observing that New Hanover, by capping administrative salaries, prioritizing student programs and cutting out line-item deadwood, has consistently been able to fund both supplemental instruction personnel and an adequate supply program. (Earlier this month, Buncombe County Commission approved a final school budget with an overall 5.4 per cent increase, without raising the tax base.)

For her part, McMahon says she feels “We need to continue to raise the bar [a phrase also used by Baldwin] and set expectations for the highest level of services to our students and their families.”

To this end, she says, “with a background in human resources, I would work closely with leaders at the state and local level to do what it takes to ensure that our nearly 2,000 teachers and all employees feel respected and valued, and that the many needs of our students are met.”

“It would be rewarding to use my experience in budgeting and capital projects to help successfully guide the 11th largest school system to even greater efficiency and effectiveness,” McMahon said in a press release.

In her interview, Baldwin says she realizes that if elected she will continue to draw fire from her fellow board members, since she has no intention of changing her method of “getting to the bottom of things.”

“This is supposed to be an oversight board,” she says, “You can’t exercise oversight if your priority is keeping the status quo.

“I hear from people – parents – all the time who have issues they think need examining, but they are honestly afraid to mention them to their own school board for fear of starting something – of some sort of retaliation. Who’ll speak for them?” she says.

McMahon had not responded to a request for an interview by press time.

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