Philip Pannell
Philip Pannell

What motivates someone to run for a spot on the District’s toothless State Board of Education? The $15,000 stipend is nice, obviously. There’s the chance to shape young minds—-albeit a much reduced one since 2007, when the mayoral school takeover replaced the Board of Education with the current board.

In Ward 8’s special election for an SBOE seat, though, it just might be the chance at something bigger.

“You see so many folks who use it as a launching pad,” says candidate Derrell Simpson. A fourth- and fifth-grade reading teacher with the National Center for Children and Families, Simpson says he’s worried about what his opponents are looking to get out of the seat.

Those opponents—-Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Darrell Gaston, frequent volunteer Nydria Humphrieslongtime activist Philip Pannell, and Tierra Jolly——are competing with Simpson for the special election scheduled for July 15. The race also briefly attracted shadow representative and recent failed at-large candidate Nate Bennett-Fleming, who dropped out this morning.

The seat opened in March, when Ward 8 SBOE member Trayon White, who handily beat Pannell to hang on to his seat in 2012, resigned after taking a job with the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Despite White’s exit, the candidates could be in for an even lengthier campaign than they realized. Hoping to avoid the roughly $287,000 it will cost to hold the July special election, the D.C. Board of Elections has asked the D.C. Council to consider legislation to fold the SBOE race into November’s general election or have ballots mailed in.

Gaston, who won just 3 percent of the vote in an attempt at ousting Barry in 2012, tells LL that Simpson should do more in the ward before questioning his desire to replace White.

“I call it foolish and I call it funny,” Gaston says. He’s more worried about Pannell, who lost to White by a little more than 200 votes in a 2011 special election for the seat.

Still, Pannell says he isn’t letting his near-miss at the seat encourage him to run for higher office, even considering the uncertain future for the Ward 8 seat held by frequently ailing Councilmember Marion Barry.

“I’m willing to sign a statement in blood that I have no intention of running for the city Council,” Pannell says.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery