Raleigh, N.C. — The victor of a closely watched runoff for the Wake County Board of Education called Wednesday for board members to put the election behind them and to pull together, so they can make small changes to a new student assignment policy and prepare to deal with a looming budget shortfall.
Kevin Hill, the incumbent for the school board's District 3 seat, defeated his Republican-backed opponent, Heather Losurdo, Tuesday. Democrats will have a majority on the school board once he and four other Democratic-backed candidates elected in October take office in December.
"I don't know that I want to talk about working with Republicans versus Democrats," Hill said. "We need to talk about coming together as a school board and not talk about party, but talk about what nine of us can do for all our kids in Wake County."
The central issue of the campaign was the work of the current Republican-majority school board to overturn the student assignment policy of busing students for diversity in favor of a policy that gives parents more input in where their children go to school.
Hill said Tuesday night that although he voted against the assignment plan, he has no intention of returning to the district's old way of assigning students.
He said he likes the new plan and thinks it can work with some tweaks. He wants to ensure classroom seats in high-performing schools are reserved for low-performing students.
The new assignment plan will soon go into operation, when the selection process for magnet schools starts on Dec. 5, Superintendent Tony Tata said.
"I'm very confident in the plan. It's a good plan," Tata said. "We are moving quite rapidly, as we need to, so that parents understand what their choices are."
John Tedesco, the school board's vice chairman, said Tuesday night that he will keep an open mind about the new board, but he will fight hard against any attempts to undo accomplishments from the past two years.
"We'll have to see what their agenda is," he said of the new board members. "If they are willing to support Tata, and if they're willing to leave the new assignment plan that we've put in place alone and work to move forward on other issues of student achievement, then I am willing to work with them on that."
Tata, a retired Army general, said his three decades in the military have accustomed him to deal with "changes in command."
"The one constant is that you just remain focused on the mission and everything will be OK. And our mission is to improve student achievement and take care of parents," he said.
After the immediate concerns about student assignment, Hill said, the school district needs to focus on the budget.
"Budget's (the) No. 1 (issue) really," Hill said. "I think the budget is going to be crucial in the coming year or two in terms of having money to provide good programs for our children."
Tata said the district faces a "$28 million funding cliff" for the 2012-13 budget when funds from a federal stimulus program, EduJobs, dry up. Hill said that shortfall is a major concern.
"The last few years, we've been cutting pretty tight to the bone as it is, so I do think that's the top issue that we have to worry about," Hill said.
Tata said he's been meeting with his business manager and budget team and plans to propose a budget dealing with the shortfall in March.
"We're finding ways to mitigate that and to get to where we need to be next year with a good budget submission," he said.