Voters in southwestern Wake County, which historically has been ground zero for opposition to the school system's diversity efforts, could now hold the key to deciding how students are assigned to Wake's schools.
Susan Evans, an outspoken critic of the Republican majority on the school board, said Tuesday that she would seek the District 8 board seat. She'll take on school board Chairman Ron Margiotta, who has led the efforts since December 2009 to scrap the use of family income as a factor in assigning students to schools.
The District 8 race is one of five Wake school board races on the Oct. 11 ballot that will determine the direction of the 143,000-student system, the state's biggest.
Supporters of the discarded socioeconomic diversity policy will need to win all five seats, including Margiotta's, to regain the majority on the board. Opponents of the old policy now hold a 5-4 majority. The fight over Wake's move toward community-based schools has triggered protests, arrests at school board meetings, national media coverage and a federal civil rights investigation.
"This election represents a national litmus test in education reform," state Rep. Paul Stam, an Apex Republican, the House majority leader and Margiotta's honorary campaign chairman, said in a statement. "From The New York Times to The Washington Post, the Wake County school board elections will be analyzed on a national scale."
The filing period for school board candidates starts July 25.
District 8, which has the highest percentage of Republicans of the nine districts, covers most of Apex and Holly Springs and part of Cary.
Margiotta, 73, a retired Republican business owner, was first elected in 2003 on a campaign of ending the diversity policy and implementing neighborhood schools.
Families in District 8 have tended to be shuffled to different schools and assigned to year-round schools more than most parts of Wake.
Margiotta has blamed reassignment on the diversity policy, while Evans attributes the lack of stability to population growth.
After the 2009 school board elections, a new majority made Margiotta the board chairman and scrapped the diversity policy.
The board is waiting on Superintendent Tony Tata to work out the details of a plan that would have families pick from several schools instead of being assigned to a specific school based on their address.
During the past 19 months, Evans, a Democrat who lives in Apex, has frequently spoken at board meetings to criticize the school board's actions.
Evans, 53, said in her announcement that she is "very sensitive to the frustrations that have been borne by many families in recent years."
She added: "Having a Board of Education that is willing to listen effectively to one another and the community, while giving thoughtful consideration to finding non-polarizing solutions, will be the key to moving Wake County Public Schools forward in the best possible direction."
Evans says her experience as a certified public accountant and part owner of a local residential construction and land development company will benefit the board.
She also touts her longtime volunteerism, including serving in her children's schools before they graduated.
Margiotta said that supporters of Wake's student assignment changes should back him and like-minded candidates to continue the work they've begun.
"They'd go back to the old diversity policy and moving kids around the county for the 6sake of diversity," Margiotta said Tuesday. "This is something I've always opposed."
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