State school superintendent race simmers

lbonner@newsobserver.comOctober 29, 2012 

The heated contest for state school superintendent had another log thrown on the fire with an email from Republican John Tedesco to his supporters that includes claims against incumbent Democrat June Atkinson that she said are false.

In the email, Tedesco, a member of the Wake County school board, said Atkinson is “using your public funds to pay groups like the Rev. (William) Barber’s NAACP to work for her campaign.”

Campaign finance disclosures show no payments from Atkinson to the NAACP this year. Her campaign reports from 2008 show sums of $50, $75, $100 and $125 paid to the NAACP and local NAACP chapters, with the expenditures labeled “advertisement” or “program ad.” The NAACP and its chapters ask candidates to advertise in printed banquet programs.

Atkinson said she’s never paid the NAACP for campaign work.

“It has been his pattern since I have known him,” Atkinson said. “He has bent the truth at every turn.”

Tedesco said he wanted to make a broad contrast with Atkinson in the email that went out to about 3,000 people. “We have a different view set,” he said.

The tense back-and-forth has become a feature of the campaign, with Tedesco telling voters that Atkinson is a liberal who used her office to meddle in issues of no concern to statewide public education, and Atkinson painting Tedesco as inexperienced and loose with facts. The winner of the election will run the state Department of Public Instruction.

In the email, Tedesco links Atkinson to one of his most prominent antagonists. Barber was a vocal critic of the former Republican Wake school board majority and its student reassignment plan.

The NAACP does not work for campaigns, Barber said in an interview Monday.

“It is a deliberate lie,” he said of Tedesco’s claim. Candidates have been purchasing banquet booklet ads for years, Barber said, but that doesn’t mean the organization is supporting those politicians.

“We’re not going to sell the integrity of the NAACP for that,” he said.

In the email, Tedesco criticizes Atkinson for speaking against the Republican-supported Wake County student reassignment plan, linking the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to school bullying, and wasting money on the state Department of Public Instruction while “our teachers suffered and children went without textbooks.”

Atkinson is listed as a sponsor of an April 2011 fundraiser for a group raising money to fight Republican school board candidates. She also contributed to a Wake school board candidate.

“Make no bones about it,” Tedesco said. “It was inappropriate for her as superintendent to co-sponsor and fundraise for some of the local school board candidates.”

Atkinson said she never mentioned any school board member by name and did not help raise money for an individual candidate. She said she made the campaign contribution as a private individual.

She did say she was concerned about Wake dropping its policy on socio-economic diversity in a 2010 interview.

“Each day as I read the newspaper, my thought is ‘why will people not come together to do that which is in the best interest of all the children who live in Wake County,’ ” she said in the taped interview. “We want our children to learn to get along, to work with other people by having that experience.”

She said in an interview Monday that she was speaking in general about her concerns that schools are becoming more segregated.

Atkinson said she does not deserve blame for local school district budget cuts because the legislature adopts the state budget.

“He doesn’t even know enough that the General Assembly makes the decision on how much money we get from state funds,” she said.

Tedesco said Atkinson should have worked harder to restructure and shrink the state DPI so more money could go to schools.

“We can realign the whole operation,” he said, to move money out of Raleigh and into classrooms.

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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