Raleigh, N.C. — In a forum Monday night at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Raleigh, the two major party candidates for state superintendent sought to differentiate themselves based on experience.
The challenger, John Tedesco, painted himself as a fresh look at the long-standing goal of improving North Carolina's schools. He pointed to his opponent's two terms in office and long career in the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction as a disadvantage in a changing environment.
"If you do what you always do, you get what you always get," Tedesco said.
Incumbent June Atkinson pulled no punches in answering his challenge. His experience on the Wake County Board of Education, she said, should not be a selling point for voters.
"My opponent has a cloud of chaos around him," she said, referring to Tedesco's role in the back-and-forth battle over student assignment in the state's largest school district.
The long-standing Wake County policy of busing students so that schools maintain a socio-economically diverse population, ended by Tedesco and a Republican board majority that came to power in 2009, remains a factor as that district tries to figure out a replacement that satisfies parents, school leaders and legal challenges.
"I support kids going to school in their neighborhood," Tedesco said.
"I find it important kids learn to work with people who do not look like them," Atkinson countered.
The pair agreed that control of schools should be largely managed locally, and that teachers deserve to be better paid.
Tedesco argued that, as a Republican, he'd have better cooperation from the GOP-led state legislature and noted that Republican Pat McCrory leads in polls as next governor of North Carolina.
"They know I am honest and straight-forward," Atkinson said, claiming that partisanship would not inhibit her ability to work with other state leaders.