Election 2013

Our endorsements for Wake school board

September 23, 2013 

Sometimes it seems as if the Wake County school board has been, as the song says, like a sparrow in a hurricane. In 2009, Republicans took over the board (officially, it’s nonpartisan) and proceeded to roil the waters for two years, scrapping a successful assignment plan, driving out a good superintendent to hire one more to their liking, engaging in one contentious meeting after another with members of the public.

By 2011, voters had had enough and replaced the Republican majority with a Democratic one. Superintendent Tony Tata, a former Army general who had been a conservative TV commentator and an operations chief with the Washington public schools, was fired, and now Jim Merrill, a Wake veteran and an experienced administrator, is in place. Things are, in many ways, looking up, though the system needs to work on overall academic performance.

This election offers voters an opportunity to install on the board some truly outstanding people who care more about the quality of education for children than about political ideology. Our endorsements are based on coverage of the candidates and in some cases interviews. The one thing all those endorsed have in common seems an appropriate “litmus” test for any board member: They support the upcoming school bond referendum.

District 1 : Benton

Incumbent Tom Benton, representing this east-northeast Wake district, is a retired principal and a former teacher. He is a reasoned voice in debate, a superbly informed board member who did his best to offer constructive thoughts during often-contentious meetings with Wake commissioners, dominated by Republicans, who wanted to take over school construction and management in a blatant power play. Benton tried to keep discussions all about education.

He says one priority would be restoring confidence in the schools, a theme our other endorsees have sounded. He wants more compensation for teachers, who’ve been starved for raises to the point where the state’s pay ranks near the bottom. He wants a focus on providing students with the tools they need to be successful. He would like a better relationship with the commissioners that focused on solving problems, not on divisions over school ownership. “That,” he said, “should be off the table.” We endorse Tom Benton without hesitation.

Benton’s opponent is Wake Forest lawyer Don McIntyre, who opposes the school bond issue.

District 2: Johnson-Hostler

Monika Johnson-Hostler brings great enthusiasm to this campaign She is committed to public service as the head of a nonprofit funded with federal and state money that raises awareness about sexual assault. She has an 8-year-old daughter in Wake schools, and her husband is a teacher. She fully supports the school bond issue and believes school board members should make decisions through consensus gained from talking with parents.

We like Johnson-Hostler’s earnest belief in the public schools and her energy and open-mindedness. She would be a progressive school board member with a positive outlook about and faith in the public schools. The school board needs that, and the children of Wake County deserve it. We support Johnson-Hostler.

Her opponent, Matt Scruggs, is an automotive sales manager.

District 7: Felton

One of the best candidates in this school board election is running in District 7, western and northwestern Wake County. Zora Felton is a retired teacher with boundless enthusiasm and a passion for improving student achievement beyond just statistics, She’s in the race in part because she’s worried. “Teachers are leaving the classroom,” she says. “Teachers are retiring early.”

She is dismayed by the fact that teachers have to dig into their own pockets to buy supplies, by the low pay and especially by the fact that Republican lawmakers ended the teaching fellows program, which gave young people financial breaks on college tuition if they became teachers. Felton, with over two decades of experience teaching in this area, has judges and doctors and lawyers among her “alums” from her high school classrooms.

Her opponent is incumbent Deborah Prickett, who has commendably broken with the Wake Republican Party and supports the upcoming school bond issue. Prickett is a consultant with the state Department of Public Instruction and was among the conservatives who took a majority on the board in 2009. The actions of that group were damaging to public schools in Wake County.

Felton is a promising choice we enthusiastically support.

District 9: Fletcher

There are two excellent candidates in District 9, a western Wake area. Our endorsement goes to incumbent Bill Fletcher, a member who served a stint as chairman of the board during his 1993-2005 tenure. He was appointed to an open spot earlier this year following the resignation of Debra Goldman.

During his earlier terms on the board, Fletcher, a Republican, became more moderate and gained a reputation as an open-minded member. Now, he says, “We’ve lost the community support for our public schools.” That’s a pretty daring statement from a candidate, but Fletcher believes he can help by seeking more money for teachers and better relationships with the community and by restoring the strength of the schools’ administration with new Superintendent Merrill. The problem, Fletcher said, is that Tata took several schools employees with him when he went to be state secretary of transportation. “It’s a difficult situation,” Fletcher says.

Nancy Caggia, an articulate and strong advocate for the public schools, has been a supporter of public education as a parent and an activist. She’d be a good board member, but Fletcher’s experience gives him the edge.

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