Wake County school board Chairman Ron Margiotta is on a mission that Susan Evans is trying hard to derail.
Margiotta says he wants to keep southwest Wake's District 8 seat for four more years so he can finish the work of implementing neighborhood schools and ending busing for diversity efforts. His re-election would guarantee that Republicans at least hold on to their 5-4 board majority Tuesday.
"I'm ready to finish the job and go ride off into the sunset," said Margiotta, 73, a retired small business owner endorsed by the Wake County Republican Party.
Evans, 53, would like to help Margiotta ride into the sunset this December, when his current terms expires. She argues that Margiotta's actions have hurt Wake's reputation and enacted policies that will result in the resegregation of schools.
"He's been polarizing, bullying, and not well informed on matters," said Evans, an accountant endorsed by the Wake County Democratic Party.
Covering historically fast-growing areas such as Apex, Holly Springs and part of southern Cary, District 8 has seen its share of reassignments over the years. Margiotta's message of neighborhood schools resonated with frustrated voters, propelling him onto the school board in 2003 and allowing him to run unopposed in 2007.
The election of four new Republican board members in 2009 elevated Margiotta from being the lone voice for neighborhood schools to leading a new majority that is attempting to overhaul the way students are assigned.
Margiotta's coalition voted last year to drop a policy that sought to balance income levels of families with students at schools. The decision has sparked protests, arrests, a federal civil rights investigation, a review of the accreditation of Wake's high schools, and national criticism from people such as U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and comedian Stephen Colbert.
"Families didn't want to see this kind of extreme change," Evans said. "They wanted to see relief from being moved around. They didn't want the board to bring in a political agenda."
Margiotta blames the ruckus of the past two years on people who haven't accepted the outcome of the 2009 elections. He said the board could have slowed things down, but nothing would have been accomplished.
"Somebody could criticize our process, which is justified," Margiotta said. "But if we hadn't approached it in that manner, things would never have happened. We took action. I'm proud of that fact."
Margiotta praises the new student assignment plan developed by Superintendent Tony Tata that has proximity to home as one of its guiding principles and would end the use of mandatory reassignments. The board is scheduled to vote on the plan Oct. 18.
Evans has frequently criticized the board majority's actions over the past two years, including the decision to change the assignment policy. She argues that not providing diversity will result in the creation of extremely high-poverty schools that will be expensive to operate because of the extra academic resources that will have to be provided.
Evans says she recognizes the concerns that families have about reassignment and would promote stability as part of any new plan. But she said you can still provide diversity, whether it's based on socioeconomics or student achievement.
"They gave the message that if you want stability, you can't have diversity in assignment," Evans said. "That's not true."
Margiotta says electing Evans would turn back the clock in a negative way.
"If the majority changed, we would go back to the old assignment plan that created busing for diversity," he said.
One of the areas Margiotta says he wants to push is adding more programs like those now offered now in magnet schools to schools across the district. He complains that the magnet schools inside the Raleigh Beltline get "whipped cream," while schools in other parts of the county are left with "broccoli."
Magnet schools have been used to promote diversity by offering unique programs designed to encourage suburban students to attend. Over the years, non-magnet schools have been discouraged from offering programs that might compete too much with those at the magnet schools.
Evans agrees that school leaders should look at improving academic offerings in non-magnet schools. But the parent of two magnet school graduates warns that weakening the magnet program would mean "shooting ourselves in the foot."
"We need to find a delicate balance," Evans said. "The people who are promoting this agenda are looking out for the benefit of a few people instead of the needs of the school system."