Edict: Pull plug on new high school

Incoming school board members tell current ones to halt a disputed project.

Staff WriterNovember 5, 2009 

— Just one day after the runoff election thatcemented their control of the Wake County school board, newly elected members flexed their political muscle Wednesday with a demand that the current board immediately stop work on the problem-plagued Forest Ridge High School project.

Although they don't take office until Dec. 1, the four new members picked the first of many expected fights with current board members as the new majority moves to change established policies such as busing for socioeconomic diversity and mandatory year-round schools. For their opening shot, the newcomers sent a joint letter that said the school system should quit spending money on the Forest Ridge site pending a review of alternative locations for the northeastern Wake high school.

"I don't think it makes sense to keep spending on it when the new board may stop it," said John Tedesco, who was elected to the school board after easily winning a runoff Tuesday.

But members of the current board said they'll stick with the Forest Ridge site on Forestville Road near U.S. 401 in far northeast Raleigh, despite escalating costs.

"I'm comfortable with the direction that we're traveling in," said school board chairman Kevin Hill, who will be part of the board minority after the newcomers take office Dec. 1.

School board member Patti Head, who will leave office Nov. 30 after having not run for re-election, had a more pointed reaction to the joint letter. She said the new board members don't have all the information about the Forest Ridge project that current board members have.

"They're duly elected, but they're not sworn in yet," Head said. "We're still the elected officials."

Tedesco's victory completed a sweep that began in October when three other candidates who are opponents of current board policies were elected. They'll join current board member Ron Margiotta in forming a new majority on the nine-member board.

All five members of the new majority signed the joint letter, which was sent Wednesday to the current school board and county staff. The letter comes after months of criticism by Margiotta and the new board members about the higher-than-expected costs for road improvements for the site. Many residents have complained about the location of Forest Ridge and about the school's and effect on traffic. The school is about two miles from Heritage High School, whichalready produces traffic congestion on Forestville Road.

Administrators said inAugust that off-site water, sewer and road improvements would cost $7.5 million, $6million more than originally budgeted.

Opponents of the Forest Ridge site have proposed alternative locations, including one on U.S. 401 near Louis bury Road that Rolesville Mayor Frank Eagles suggested to Wake's county commissioners. A team of county and school system staffers is reviewing ^alternative locations.

Margiotta has repeatedly asked the current board to stop spending money on Forest Ridge while the review of sites takes place. But administrators have said that even a two-week delay would push the school's opening back a year to 2013. They say picking a new site would delay the ability to open a new high school in northeastern Wake until at least 2014.

"We've done the prudent and proper thing to get a high school ready in an area where it's desperately needed," Head said.

Tedesco, Margiotta and new board member ChrisMalone say they're skeptical of the claims that Wake can't afford even a brief delay.Tedesco said it would be "arrogant" of the current board to ignore their request considering that more than 20,000 voters backed them in this fall's election.

Malone said he expects to run into obstacles from current board members and other groups as new board members carry out their campaign pledges.

"I've been told to expect resistance from them on whatever we do," Malone said. "I'll deal with it."

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

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