Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH – Big changes could be in store for the Wake County public school system after foes of the district’s diversity busing policy delivered an electoral roundhouse kick Tuesday to the opposition, winning three of four open seats on the school board and potentially forcing a runoff in a fourth district.
The shake-up could tip the balance in favor of neighborhood schools and away from the divisive policy of diversity-based busing, a centerpiece of the Wake County school board campaign this year. A new majority favoring reform could also signal greater parental choice and a move away from forced reassignments.
Ron Margiotta, who for years has been the school board’s lone conservative voice, said the election results would help return the school system to its “true owners,” parents and taxpayers. The new members would also give parents a greater voice, he said.
“The real issue is an inability to listen to parents, and I think that’s the key that’s going to be resolved,” he said.
Advocates of the current school board policies, though, expressed dismay at the results and argued they’ll mean a decline in diversity.
“I’m thoroughly disappointed,” Calla Wright, president of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African American Children, a group that supports diversity busing, told the News & Observer of Raleigh. “I guess people didn’t see the urgency to get out to vote. It’s the result of people not knowing what the issues are.”
In an interview with WRAL-TV, former school board member Beverly Clark said the new members would create uncertainty for Wake County families. “We know what folks ran against, but we don’t know what they ran for,” she said.
In the three races decided last night, reform candidates won by double-digit margins: Chris Malone (District 1) by 22 percent, Deborah Prickett (District 7) by 28 percent, and Debra Goldman (District 9) by 18 percent.
In the crowded District 2 race, diversity busing opponent John Tedesco won 49 percent of the vote compared to 24 percent for Cathy Truitt and 23 percent for Horace Tart, who was the only incumbent running in any of the races. Since no candidate took home a majority of votes, Tedesco and Truitt could face each other in a run-off election in November.
Terry Stoops, education policy analysts for the John Locke Foundation, said that Tart’s “dismal performance” shows how upset parents are with the current school board’s policies.
“The message was clear — the status quo had to go,” Stoops said. “Turnout was low, but voters’ faith in the Wake County school board was even lower.”
The election results are the culmination of months of rigorous campaigning that frequently turned heated, particularly over the district’s forced busing policy.
That policy, created by the school board eight years ago, attempts to mix students who qualify for the federal free and reduced-lunch program with students from wealthier families, a plan that supporters say leads to higher rates of student achievement.
Opponents say a neighborhood schools policy would be friendlier to families.
“Neighborhood schools and parental involvement go hand in hand,” said Joe Ciulla, president of the Wake Community Schools Alliance, a parent group opposed to the busing regimen. “The fact is that we have a lot of parents today who struggle to be involved with the school because it’s on the other side of the county. They can’t get involved personally because the kid is on a bus so long.”
The election results have already impacted at least one parent. Gail Marold, a founding member of an anti-busing political action committee and a volunteer with the county Republican Party, said the new school board members make it less likely that she’ll send her daughter to a private school next year.
“What I think it means is that our children and the parents of Wake County finally have multiple strong voices on the school board,” she said.
David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.