RALEIGH — Wake County school board candidate Cathy Truitt declared Wednesday she won't back busing for diversity if she's elected, dashing hopes she would champion the issue and preserve a board majority that opposes a move to neighborhood schools.
Truitt, who officially requested Wednesday a runoff election on Nov. 3 against front-runner John Tedesco for the board's District 2 seat, called "forced assignments" a dead issue in Wake County. She said she, like Tedesco, will back abandoning the diversity policy in favor of having neighborhood schools.
"Forced busing is dead," Truitt said. "Now that busing is out of the way, we can move forward."
Barring a change of heart by Tedesco, Truitt or the three candidates who won outright on Tuesday, for the first time in a generation there will be a majority on the school board that backs neighborhood schools -- no matter who wins the runoff.
For almost four decades, Wake's school leadership has been committed to maintaining diverse schools, even though this policy has meant busing students to schools outside their neighborhoods. In 2000, Wake switched from balancing the percentages of black students in schools to balancing the percentages of low-income students.
A well-organized opposition campaign in all four districts turned resentment about busing, student reassignment and mandatory year-round schools into a winning message on Election Day. The three candidates who scored outright victories Tuesday are all opponents of the diversity policy in North Carolina's largest school district.
The only race left unresolved is District 2, which covers Fuquay-Varina, Garner and Willow Spring. Tedesco, a Big Brothers Big Sisters official, got 49.4 percent of the vote, just shy of the majority needed to avoid a runoff.
Truitt, an education consultant, received 23.7 percent of the vote, 59 votes ahead of third-place finisher Horace Tart, the lone incumbent who ran for re-election this year. Truitt says she's hoping to get the support of Tart, who backs the diversity policy.
Truitt contrasted herself from Tedesco by saying she would be a swing vote against de facto resegregation of the schools. She said she'll try to maintain diversity by expanding the number of magnet schools.
Tedesco said he supports magnet schools, but argues they should be used differently, such as to help high-achieving students instead of to promote diversity. It's uncertain how much of Wake's nationally recognized magnet school program, in which suburban students voluntarily attend inner-city schools for special programs, will be preserved.
"We shouldn't be using magnet schools as a false tool for socio-economic distribution of kids," Tedesco said.
Diversity backers' plan
Supporters of the diversity policy aren't giving up yet. They're hoping to persuade the new board members to back away from their campaign positions.
"Obviously, there will be some tweaking that needs to be done," said school board member Keith Sutton, a supporter of the diversity policy. "Hopefully, they won't want to come in and make wholesale changes like their rhetoric was saying."
But newly elected school board member Chris Malone, who easily won the District 1 seat that covers Wake Forest and eastern Wake, said it's the current board members who should be "flexible" about their positions.
"I'm convinced in the word of my fellow candidates that we want to get neighborhood schools," Malone said. "They're very passionate about that."
Malone also expressed wariness about board members and others who oppose neighborhood schools: "They may try to divide us."
School board member Lori Milberg, whose seat Malone will now take, is worried about the future of the school system. Milberg, who chose not to run again, had backed diversity policy supporterRita Rakestraw over Malone.
"It's a scary proposition, but we're going to have to deal with it," Milberg said.
Staff writer Thomas Goldsmith contributed to this report.
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