Funding for Wake schools divide candidates

How to raise cash at issue

Staff WriterSeptember 22, 2011 

— Candidates for the Wake County school board's District 5 seat took distinctly different tacks Wednesday on magnet schools and the system's need for funding as it continues to grow.

County officials have said it will likely be necessary to hold a bond referendum in the next year or two because all levels of schools are headed toward capacity. Candidate Jim Martin said it's inevitable that the system will need more revenue, one way or the other.

"We've gotten ourselves in this situation and we have no other option than to have a bond or raise taxes," said Martin, an N.C. State chemistry professor.

"I am not a big fan of this crisis-to-bond, crisis-to-bond approach," he said, adding that Wake should pursue ongoing partnerships with the private sector to meet infrastructure needs.

Cynthia Matson, college director for ITT Technical Institute, first answered that as public servants, board members should abide by the public will in deciding whether to issue bonds. But in answering a different question, she returned to the issue to state that the schools should use means such as critically analyzing the budget and renegotiating contracts to save money.

"I do not believe in raising taxes," Matson said. She chastised Martin in her closing for assuming that more money will be needed. "There's a lot of ways to raise money without raising taxes."

The exchanges remained mostly cordial throughout the forum, but in final statements, Matson attacked Martin for partisanship and he accused her of distorting facts in her indictment of busing for diversity.

Martin and Matson, both parents, spoke at Wednesday's forum at United Unitarian Fellowship of Raleigh, an event sponsored by the nonprofit groups WakeUp Wake County and the League of Women Voters.

They are competing to replace Dr. Anne McLaurin, who chose not to run again in the district. The election is Oct. 11. After redistricting this year, District 5 runs from Hillsborough Street to southern Wake areas neighboring Fuquay-Varina and Holly Springs.

Martin has been volunteering for 10 years and speaking at school board meetings regularly during the recent controversy over a change directed by the Republican-backed school board majority that took office in 2009.

Matson's background includes founding the group Assignment By Choice. That group rallied voters against the frequent student reassignments during a period of rampaging growth in the Wake suburbs and busing for diversity.

The candidates agreed on the need for more stability in assignment, but differed on the role magnet schools should play in the system.

Magnets debated

"I don't want to dismantle magnets, but I think all students should have access to equitable resources," Matson said.

He used as an example the wide variation in numbers of foreign languages available at different schools.

Matson maintained that magnets were not needed to support diversity in a county where students from minority groups outnumber non-minorities.

Martin described himself as a strong supporter of the magnet program, noting that their roles under federal law were both to aid diversity and to make best use of school capacity.

But he added that changes should be made in the way magnet students are chosen, describing the previous magnet lottery system as "mysterious."

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

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