A possible shift in the Wake County school board's balance of power raises a host of questions about the future of the school assignment plan that the panel is scheduled to vote on Tuesday.
It's unknown whether Republicans, who largely support the plan in its current form, or Democrats will hold the majority on the nine-member board for the next two years.
Voters ousted Republican board Chairman Ron Margiotta on Tuesday in favor of Democrat Susan Evans. Democratic incumbent Keith Sutton retained his seat, and two Democratic newcomers, Christine Kushner and Jim Martin, won open seats.
Four Republican board members weren't on the ballot this year.
In North Raleigh's District 3, a likely runoff Nov. 8 will decide the race between Democratic incumbent Kevin Hill and GOP challenger Heather Losurdo.
The current, GOP-majority board could approve the choice-based assignment plan, which has been months in the making, only to have it reversed or modified when a new board takes office in December.
"We need to listen to the public's input first before we make any decision," Hill said. "I don't want to speculate on what the public will say."
Hill said the board hasn't had enough discussion as a group or enough response from the public to vote on a plan yet. He added that the board should hold more than the single public hearing scheduled at 5 p.m. today at Broughton High School in Raleigh. That is not a convenient place and time for some families, Hill said.
Despite the uncertainty left by Tuesday's vote, school board Vice Chairman John Tedesco said he, Margiotta and Superintendent TonyTata agreed Wednesday to leave the vote on the student assignment plan on next week's meeting agenda.Tedesco pointed to school staff's need to have the magnet school application period in January as a reason not to delay the vote until after new members take office Dec. 6.
"I don't think it would be fair for our parents to delay," Tedesco said. "I don't think it would be fair for our magnet schools to delay."
New school board member Jim Martin said the board's majority members should remember how they objected in 2009 to the previous board's going ahead with plans to build Forest Ridge High School despite the objections of the incoming members.
"I would hope that the board will be willing to listen to us before making a decision," Martin said.
Tedesco said there's a difference between delaying a decision that affects one school site and delaying a plan that affects the whole county. He said board members had spent the past two years deliberating the issue before getting to the vote.
Martin said he's concerned about how the plan will address the schools that too few parents choose. Under the plan, no addresses in Wake would have base schools attached to them. Instead, parents could choose among several nearby schools, a magnet school and another school, not necessarily nearby, that has a solid record of student achievement.
School access is key
Michael Alves, a Massachusetts consultant who designed a plan that formed the basis for the plan devised by Tata and staff, has been working for the system again recently under a retainer from the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.
He said the key to making the plan work for low-income people is to give them access to high-achieving schools out of their neighborhoods. That's an aspect of the plan that a board could modify after first adopting the larger concept.
No matter who's in control after the District 3 runoff, the plan likely will need ongoing refinement, Alves said. If the present board approves it Tuesday and, for example, a Democratic board takes office in December, that body could enact specific changes rather than delay the plan until 2013.
None of the Democratic candidates made the case during the campaign that the system should return to the former system of balancing schools based on families' socioeconomic backgrounds. Instead, Democrats such as Sutton have said schools' populations shouldn't contain too many low-achieving students.
'A major step forward'
The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, on Wednesday hailed the school board election results that could change the direction of the state's largest school system as "a major step forward."
Margiotta had sent out campaign mailers trying to link Evans with Barber, who has been a controversial figure in Wake politics.
Barber fought the Republican board majority's elimination of the diversity policy. In Margiotta's literature, side-by-side photos of Evans and Barber were shown with warnings saying they had the same agenda and would bring back busing for socioeconomic diversity.
"Those who used racist propaganda and dirty tricks seem to have forgotten that the education of our children is a sacred thing," Barber said in a written statement. "Our teachers are sacred, our schools are sacred, and our school leaders have a sacred duty to be responsible for all our children."
Barber, whose group's civil rights complaint led to the ongoing federal investigation of Wake's elimination of the diversity policy, had kept a low public profile during the school board campaign.