CARY — The Democratic majority on the Wake County school board crossed party lines on Saturday to appoint Bill Fletcher, a Republican, to the vacant seat on the board that represents much of Cary.
Fletcher, who served on the board from 1993 to 2005, was chosen from a field of six applicants, including several Democrats. During his 12 years on the board, Fletcher was an outspoken supporter of using student assignment to promote diverse student enrollments.
All six Democratic board members voted for Fletcher. The board is officially non-partisan, but both political parties have gotten heavily involved in the past several years.
“There was a lot in his background that appealed to me to show that he’s bipartisan,” said school board chairman Keith Sutton, a Democrat. “He’s concerned about avoiding high-poverty schools. Then there’s his years of experience and his passion.”
Lois Nixon, who is unaffiliated, and Jim Pomeranz, a Democrat, each received one vote from the Republican members. Board member John Tedesco, a Republican, said the Democratic majority made a “token” pick.
Tedesco voted for Nixon, who unsuccessfully ran for the board in 2009 and has been a critic of the Republican board members.
“Lois is a moderate voice who would have helped us move forward,” Tedesco said in an interview after the vote. “Fletcher will move us backwards.”
Even with Fletcher’s appointment, Democrats hold a super-majority on the nine-member board.
Fletcher will take the District 9 seat vacated by Debra Goldman, who resigned in February to lead a non-profit organization in Wilkes County. He will finish out Goldman’s term, which ends in November.
He said Saturday he has no plans now to run for a full, four-year term this fall.
Fletcher, 63, is a real-estate agent and the son of the late Fred Fletcher, president and general manager of Capitol Broadcasting. He was initially elected in 1993 as a critic of busing for diversity who charged that Wake schools practiced wasteful administrative spending. But he became both a supporter of busing for diversity and increased school funding.
Fletcher was the Republican candidate for state Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2004. The contest, which saw him file a lawsuit charging illegal ballots were counted, was decided when the Democratic-led General Assembly picked his opponent, June Atkinson. The move came under a state constitutional provision governing contested elections.
Fletcher, who lost his re-election bid in 2005, told board members Saturday that avoiding high concentrations of poverty is part of the state constitutional mandate to provide an appropriate education for all children. He said they can use student assignment to create “healthy schools” so that families can know they’ll have great schools no matter where they live.
“Historically we have proven that avoiding high concentrations of poverty has been a positive academic impact in our classrooms,” Fletcher said. “It’s also been a positive thing for our teachers.”
Fletcher also stressed the need for making sure that students can read by the end of third grade.
Fletcher will be sworn in March 19. He starts during a turbulent period in the history of the state’s largest school district.
The school board is facing myriad challenges, including hiring a new superintendent, developing a new student assignment policy and long-range plan, working on a school construction bond referendum and adopting a budget for the coming fiscal year.
The board also is facing challenges from the Wake County Board of Commissioners, which has asked state legislators for changes that would fundamentally affect the school system. At the request of commissioners, a bill was introduced in the state Senate on Thursday that would allow county governments to take ownership, construction and maintenance of schools away from school boards.