Wake school board majority to be decided in run-off
Posted October 11, 2011 9:36 p.m. EDT
Updated October 17, 2011 2:11 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County voters on Tuesday elected four Democratic-backed candidates to the Wake County Board of Education, but one race is expected to end in a run-off next month.
That race – between District 3 incumbent Kevin Hill, a Democrat representing north Raleigh, and Republican challenger Heather Losurdo – will determine whether there will be a shift in power for the governing board of the state's largest school system.
Hill leads Losurdo with 49.7 percent of the votes but doesn't have the necessary 50 percent needed to secure a win. Losurdo, who received 39.8 percent of the vote, is the only chance now that the current majority has to remain in control of the board. She said she will ask for a run-off.
"I truly appreciate everyone who came out to vote today, especially those who cast their vote and confidence for me," Hill, who was the board's chairman two years ago, said in a statement to WRAL News. "I look forward sharing with the voters between now and Nov. 8, why I should be representing the children of District 3 and all the children of Wake County on the Board of Education for the next four years."
Outside groups launched attacks on both candidates during the two-month board campaign, which, Losurdo said, definitely had an effect on the race.
"There have been outside entities involved in the race, obviously not on my behalf, that unfortunately, I think, is going to have an impact on the outcome," she said.
Current board chair ousted
In the District 8 race for southern Wake County, challenger Susan Evans upset board Chairman Ron Margiotta with 52 percent of the votes.
"I don't think the change that was implemented once the majority took control in 2009 was really the kind of change that most people were asking for," Evans said.
Margiotta has led the Republican-backed bloc responsible for a number of changes over the past two years, including a controversial move away from the district's longstanding student assignment policy.
For years, the district bused students as a way to help achieve socio-economic diversity in all schools, but the board last year eliminated the practice, attracting national attention and paving the way for a new policy aimed at giving parents choices for their children's education while keeping students closer to their homes.
Opponents of the new policy, including the state chapter of the NAACP, fear that the move would create pockets of poverty in the school system and segregate schools.
"I'm looking forward tor restoring some healing to our community. It's been a tumultuous couple of years," Evans told supporters following her win. "(The student assignment issue) was a healthy debate that we needed to have, and we realized some things that we've got to think seriously about and work harder about, and I promise to do my very best job with that."
In conceding the race, Margiotta said he's worried that if the power of the board shifts, the new board would undo work from the Republican-controlled board.
"It seems that the people have spoken. I can accept that," Margiotta told supporters. "My concern is that we might very well go back to where we were prior to two years ago."
That was welcome news Tuesday evening for the NAACP. State chapter President Rev. William Barber released a statement, saying that even though the balance of the school board is still unresolved, the victories are a "major step forward."
"Children of all colors, we pray, can once again feel welcome in their schools and at their school board," Barber said. "There are thousands of children tonight in Wake County whose only hope in escaping poverty is in our public schools."
Supporters of Margiotta, meanwhile, began rallying for Losurdo, saying they plan to do whatever is necessary to secure her win.
"This whole county will pour every bit of effort and every bit of dollars and resources to decide how this school system goes," school board vice chairman John Tedesco said. "Do we go to neighborhood schools, or do we go to busing-for-quota systems?"
"I promise you, Heather, we are all going to come around you and get behind you," he added. "We are going to put you over the top, because parents want to be empowered, student achievement needs to be first, and we are going to make this happen."
Evans said she expects that the new board, whatever the final makeup will be, will not make any rash decisions.
"We're looking at having a school board again that will talk together, collaborate together, make thoughtful decisions together in a respectful manner," she said.
Meanwhile, North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman David Parker released a statement congratulating Evans on her win.
"I have no doubt that Susan will work hard to restore the confidence, trust and integrity lost under Margiotta’s failed leadership," Parker said. "Ron Margiotta’s days of making Wake County schools the butt of national jokes is now over.”
Democrats win other races
In other board races, District 4 incumbent Keith Sutton beat Venita Peyton with 81 percent of the votes. Sutton said he will continue to be an advocate for his constituents in east Raleigh.
"They will continue to have someone that will be an advocate for children and families across Wake County," he said. "They're going to have someone who's going to fight hard and fight for what's right and try to make the school system a better place for all students."
First-time candidate Christine Kushner received 60 percent of the votes in the District 6 race in central Raleigh, beating out three challengers.
"This has been such an energizing experience, talking with parents, talking with voters, hearing their hopes and their dreams, and I have just been amazed at the amount of passion for our public schools," Kushner said. "It's something I share, and so I am going to carry with me all the energy that I've gotten on this campaign and work hard to make sure all students have a fair opportunity and an excellent public education here in Wake County."
Jim Martin beat his opponent, Cynthia Matson, in the District 5 race in south-central Raleigh with 68 percent of the vote. He talked about what it will mean to have him serve on the board.
"First and foremost, I will bring good governance to the school board. You cannot have a board that just tries to ram policy through," he said. "You can't have a board that is beholden to any partisan agenda. My agenda is to look out for education, the best interests for the students, the best interests for the teachers and the best interests for the citizens of Wake County."