Eight days after Camden voters went to the polls in the first school board election since the 2013 state takeover of the troubled public school system, the winners have been declared for three seats in a hotly contested race.
The Camden County Board of Elections certified the results at its headquarters in Blackwood Wednesday afternoon after tallying provisional ballots Saturday. There were no changes from last week’s unofficial results following several lead changes.
“This is it,” said Election Board Chair Donna M. Robinson Taylor. The board also certified results for county, municipal, school board, and fire district elections.
In the Camden school board election, the winners were: Nyemah Gillespie with 2,169 votes; Falio Leyba-Martinez, 1,833; and Elton Custis, 1,683. Also on the ballot were Tyann La’Shae Wall, 1,628; JeNell McRae, 1,621; Troy Still, 1,610; Theo Spencer, 1,161; Angel Cordero, 773; and Aaron Cooper, 729.
Turnout was among the heaviest in recent years for a Camden school board election, which typically draws a low turnout.
Three candidates who ran under the "Camden Votes” slogan threatened last week to challenge the election once the results were certified and seek a court order in Superior Court demanding a recount. The campaign cited problems with machines at a Yorkship polling place and an overnight 600-vote surge on Election Day that pushed Leyba-Martinez into second place. Election officials have disputed any voting irregularity and said there were no machine malfunctions.
Keith Benson, president of the Camden Education Association, the teachers’ union, which backed the slate, said Wednesday that a challenge would not be filed, although the campaign remains suspicious about “certain elements.”
”It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove,“ Benson said.
Custis, Wall, and McRae ran on the “Camden Votes” slate against the “Education for Everyone” ticket backed by the Democratic machine: Gillespie, Leyba-Martinez, and Still, a current board member. The remaining candidates ran as independents.
The nine candidates fought for the three open seats on a nine-member board. The winners will advise Superintendent Katrina McCombs but will have no real authority.
Under the state takeover, board members serve in an advisory capacity. McCombs, the second state-appointed superintendent, makes decisions about the budget, personnel, contracts, curriculum, and instruction.
The district has been plagued by poor test scores, a low graduation rate, and a high dropout rate. Students have fled the traditional public schools, and more students are enrolled in Renaissance and charter schools than in traditional schools.