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13 Candidates Vie For 4 Seats On Wake County School Board

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WAKE COUNTY, N.C. — A $1.2 billion budget and nearly 121,000 students -- those are two things shaping next week's election for the Wake County Board of Education. And the direction the board takes, as it tries to figure out how to deal with overcrowded schools and regain the public's trust after a fraud investigation, could depend on who is elected to office.
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    Thirteen candidates are vying for four open seats. At least two of the seats will be filled by newcomers as Amy White and Kathryn Watson Quigg are not running again. On the other hand, Bill Fletcher and Patti Head are fighting for re-election.

    The elected board will have big decisions to make. A bond proposal, for example, is already planned for 2006, and the school system is growing at nearly twice the rate that was predicted just a few years ago.

    On Wednesday, the school system announced that it had 120,507 students enrolled on the 20th day of the 2005-06 school year; that's almost 6,500 more students than on the 20th day of the 2004-05 school year. Between 1993 and 2002, enrollment in Wake County schools have grown by 34,321 students. Just in the last year, enrollment has grown by 16,120.

    Charlotte Turpin, who is with the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), said there are a lot of issues to balance.

    "Growth, crowding, funding -- can you separate the three?" Turpin asked. "I'm not sure you can do that."

    The NCAE has endorsed Lori Millberg and Bill Simmons, who are running for the District 1 seat against Tillie Turlington. The association has also endorsed Debra McHenry, Patti Head and Eleanor Goattee.

    Association members believe the candidates will carry out the agenda most important to their organization. The NCAE is also open to the idea of mandatory year-round schools.

    "We cannot continue to have library and media centers housing three classes," Turpin said. "That's (mandatory year-round) an unpopular option, but it may be one that has to be put in place for a time."

    Assignment By Choice, a parent group, believes there are other options besides mandatory year-round schools to manage growth.

    "We do have a lot that needs to be addressed, specifically the growth issue and how it's managed," Assignment By Choice's President Cynthia Matson said.

    Matson said adding a year-round track to traditional schools or half-day kindergarten may be a better choice. Assignment By Choice also believes the fraud case is a major factor in the election.

    The organization has endorsed Horace Tart, Tillie Turlington, Curt Stangler and Paul Kretzschmar.

    For the Wake County Taxpayers Association, the fraud investigation is the biggest issue.

    "We need people with good business-management skills," Russell Capps said. "We need people who are going to spend the taxpayers' money wisely."

    The school system received $248 million from the county commissioners last year. That's 31 percent of the county's total budget.

    The Wake County Taxpayers Association has endorsed Tillie Turlington, Horace Tart and Curt Stangler.

    The election for the Wake County Board of Education will be held on October 11. Voter turnout for school board elections is typically low. In 2003, the turnout was 10.5 percent.


    Kelcey Carlson, Reporter
    Terry Cantrell, Photographer

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