Analysis

Wake diversity policy hangs on one seat

Staff WriterOctober 7, 2009 

The future of the Wake County school system could all come down to District 2 and a retired educator who has both criticized the way North Carolina's largest school district ensures diversity while saying she supports diversity itself.

Cathy Truitt, who finished second in the District 2 race, says she will likely request a Nov. 3 runoff with John Tedesco, a supporter of neighborhood schools. Tedesco fell just short Tuesday of winning enough votes to avoid a head-to-head contest with Truitt to decide who will represent the district, which covers Garner, Fuquay-Varina and Willow Spring.

Three others who, like Tedesco, back neighborhood schools and are critical of Wake's diversity policy, won district seats outright Tuesday. They will join school board member Ron Margiotta, who also criticizes the diversity policy on the nine-person board. .

Truitt, a retired Johnston County educator, said Tuesday that she plans to campaign in the runoff as a swing vote against de facto resegregation of the schools. Supporters of the policy are expected to campaign hard to help her win the runoff, in hopes of getting a 5-4 majority on the board.

"There's still a glimmer of hope," said Calla Wright, president of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African American Children, which backed the diversity policy.

If Truitt were to prevail in a runoff, she could become the kingmaker on a board whose other members would be split 4-4 on the diversity policy.

Supporters of the diversity policy would have preferred that incumbent Horace Tart finished ahead of Truitt to get into the runoff, because they're uncertain about Truitt's bottom-line position on the issue.

"With Tedesco, it's clear where he is," said school board member Keith Sutton. "With Truitt, I'm not sure where she is."

If Truitt loses in November, there's a very real chance the school board could move the county in a new direction -- from busing for diversity and student reassignments to year-round schools and the magnet school program.

"We're going to be focusing more on education," said school board candidate Deborah Prickett, a supporter of neighborhood schools who won the District 7 seat that covers northwest Raleigh, Morrisville and part of Cary. "We're going to be focusing less on busing."

Only 9 percent of the District 2 voters turned out to vote Tuesday, when the school board race was the only item on their ballots. Turnout is likely to be higher in the runoff because of municipal races in Fuquay-Varina and Garner.

Even if supporters of the current board hold on after the runoff, they'll have to deal with a resurgent minority.

This could force the board to yield to opponents' claims that the diversity policy and other board policies need closer scrutiny and revision, if not outright reversal.

If Tedesco wins next month, opponents of the diversity policy will be well-positioned to control the school board for four years.

"Hunger for change was so great that no matter how much money the opposition was willing to spend, they weren't going to stop that change from happening," said school board candidate Chris Malone, who won the District 1 seat that includes Wake Forest and eastern Wake.

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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