Wake schools battle may drag on

The election billed as a gauge on a long-standing diversity policy ends today. But will the chaos?

Staff WritersNovember 3, 2009 

VOTE2.NE.110309.ASR

John Tedesco listens as Cathy Truitt is interviewed on a local radio station this morning at the polling station at the Heather Hills Clubhouse in Garner. Tedesco and Truitt are running for the District 2 Wake school board seat.

SHAWN ROCCO - SHAWN.ROCCO@NEWSOBSERVER.COM

  • The District 2 runoff for the Wake school board will determine whether a new majority will control the nine-member body and overturn existing policies on diversity, student reassignments, busing and year-round schools for North Carolina's largest school district.

    The bitter battle for the open Chapel Hill mayoral post and four Town Council seats will determine whether the town's liberal political tradition and wariness about growth will continue or whether more pro-growth candidates get swept into office.

    In Cary, the District A runoff between incumbent Jennifer Robinson and Lori Bush has been styled as a classic contest between pro-growth and slow-growth candidates.

  • Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. in Wake, Orange, Johnston, Chatham and Durham counties, with more than 20 municipal and school board races on the ballot. These contests include:

    Wake school board District 2 runoff

    Cary Town Council District A runoff

    Municipal elections in more than a dozen Wake and Johnston towns, including Holly Springs, Apex, Clayton, Wake Forest, Smithfield, Fuquay-Varina, Morrisville, Benson and Garner

    Durham mayor and City Council general election

    Chapel Hill mayor and Town Council

— The voters will make their decisions today, but the runoff race for the Wake County school board District 2 seat has already produced surprises including:

A candidate who was in the contest, then out of it, seemingly more often than a youth-hockey substitute.

A local and occasionally national political spotlight on a race centered in Garner and Fuquay-Varina.

Threats of a lawsuit that could affect the board's ability to bring about change even after the election is over.

The District 2 contest will likely seal control of the nine-member board for a coalition of newly elected candidates and one current member, all of whom strongly oppose WakeCounty's long-standing practice of busing students to ensure diverse schools.

Voting in the southeast Wake district pits Big Brothers Big Sisters executive John Tedesco against Cathy Truitt, a consultant and retired educator. Tedesco took nearly half the ballots in Oct. 6 voting, while second-place finisher Truitt has veered from asking for a runoff, to endorsing her opponent, to saying she'll still serve if she wins today.

National education journalists and, on Monday, USA Today focused on the Wake election as a barometer of the use of busing to ensure diversity in schools across the country.

"I don't think anybody realized all the twists and turns the election would take," said Tedesco, who plans to continue campaigning on Election Day. In contrast, Truitt plans to stay off the stump.

Over the weekend, Truitt, who unsuccessfully tried to withdraw her request for a runoff, announced she won't drop out and will serve if elected. On Monday, she offered this explanation: She'd take the seat to prevent the current board from filling the post with a supporter of forced busing.

"If people vote for me, fine," Truitt said. "I've given my support to Mr.Tedesco."

In a late development, the Rev. William Barber, the state head of the NAACP, said the organization would sue the new Wake school board, if necessary, to make sure that the school system doesn't resegregate.

"Our fight doesn't end on Election Day," Barber said Monday.

Possible grounds for action, Barber said, could include federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination by agencies that receive federal funding. In addition, he said a suit could rely on the ongoing Leandro school funding case in which the state Supreme Court found that disadvantaged students weren't receiving the state constitution's guarantee of a "sound basic education."

Chris Hayes, senior legislative analyst for the conservative-leaning Civitas Institute, said the NAACP should give the new board a chance to take action before threatening legal action.

"It seems like they are presupposing the worst without even giving it a try," Hayes said.

thomas.goldsmith@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8929

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