Wake's school board results prompt speculation

Wake's school board results prompt speculation that veers to extremes.

khui@newsobserver.comNovember 10, 2011 

In a sign of how much attention there's been on this year's Wake County school board elections, the change in political control from Republicans to Democrats has been met with both wild exuberance and extreme pessimism locally and nationally.

Commentators such as Rachel Maddow, The Huffington Post and the state NAACP are calling Tuesday's election results - in which Democratic incumbent Kevin Hill prevailed over Republican challenger Heather Losurdo and gave the Democrats a majority - a rejection of the tea party and a victory for integrated schools. But supporters of the ousted Republican majority are saying the election results are a rejection of education reform and a return to policies that could even increase the prison population.

All of these words come at the end of an expensive and combative campaign that saw Democrats sweep all five school board seats on the ballot to gain a 5-4 majority. Democrats will govern the state's largest school system for the next four years. In particular, Democrats will wrestle with the role that diversity should play in student assignment.

"There's no magic wand that we can wave to get everybody on our bandwagon," said Democratic school board member Keith Sutton. "Feelings are high right now."

The jubilation from supporters of the new Democratic majority is high.

"We can proudly say that our success in Wake County heralds the beginning of the end of the tea party movement," Mack Paul, chairman of the Wake County Democratic Party, said in an email message to party members Wednesday.

Maddow, the liberal talk show host, said on her MSNBC cable show Tuesday night that the Republican school board majority's "work has been overturned by the voters of Wake County." She called the results "a small-sounding election tonight with really, really important consequences."

On Wednesday, the liberal Huffington Post website wrote that the election was a setback to Raleigh businessman Art Pope.

"Voters in Raleigh, North Carolina, dealt Boss Pope a major embarrassment in his hometown," The Huffington Post said.

Critics of Pope have pointed to how he gave money in 2009 to the Wake County Republican Party to help elect the Republican majority on the school board that took office that year. This year, Pope donated money to three of the Republican school board candidates.

Pleased at the NAACP

The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, also praised the election results as "a major step forward."

"If Rev. Barber, Rachel Maddow and The Huffington Post are praising the results, then the people of Wake County should be curious about why they're uttering such praise," said Republican school board Vice Chairman John Tedesco.

The jubilation from the left is in contrast with the disappointment from the right.

Bill LuMaye said Wednesday on his talk show on WPTF-AM 680 that the public should prepare to hire more correction officers to staff jails, because a return to old school board policies could lead to more crime.

A call to opt out

"It appears that Wake County voters want to go back to the way it was when nobody was arguing and everybody was getting along and basically poor and African-American kids and Hispanic kids were failing," Rick Martinez said Wednesday on his talk show on WPTF.

He and his wife, Donna Martinez, pointed to how low Wake's graduation rates have been for years for black, Hispanic and poor students. Donna Martinez said, "The reformers have been booted out of office."

Rick Martinez said that parents of black and Hispanic students should pull their children out of the school system and opt for charter schools or private schools because the old diversity policy had failed them.

But Tedesco said, "I wouldn't tell people to run from public education. Wake County schools will still be strong."

Sutton, the board member, said the Democrats will work to build the trust of the Republican board members and their supporters.

"We will have to demonstrate our ability to govern and lead," Sutton said. "Over time we will win some people over."

Hui: 919-829-4534

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service