Wake County school board candidates could find it hard to get their message out this year when voter attention will be focused on an $810 million school construction bond referendum.
The filing period opens today for the school board seats now held by Tom Benton, Bill Fletcher, Deborah Prickett and John Tedesco. The candidates vying for those four seats could play second fiddle to the groups who will be pouring money in to persuade Wake voters either to pass or reject a bond that would fund 16 new schools, renovations and other construction projects.
Benton, Fletcher and Prickett all say they’ll run this fall, but Tedesco hasn’t announced his decision.
“With a bond up this time, you’re less likely to see the energy and focus on the campaign,” Tedesco said. “You are more likely to see the energy and focus on getting the bond passed.”
Tedesco represents District 2, which includes much of Garner and Fuquay-Varina and part of Knightdale. He said he’s engaged in “thoughtful consideration and prayer” with his family about the issue of whether to run for re-election.
A law that the state legislature passed last month changes when and how Wake school board members are elected. Most of the changes take place in 2016, but, more immediately, the law stipulates that the four candidates elected Oct. 8 will serve only three-year terms instead of the regular four-year term.
The law also extends the terms of the five Democratic-backed members elected in 2011 by a year. But in 2016, all nine board seats will be on the ballot under new lines drawn up by the legislature.
For this year, the elections will take place under the lines adopted by the school board in 2011.
Prickett, a Republican whose District 7 seat includes northwest Raleigh, Morrisville and parts of Cary, said she believes she can be an effective board member even though she would remain in the minority for the next three years.
“There are a lot of things we agree on,” Prickett said of the other board members. “We’re still working for kids and families.”
Zora Felton, a retired educator and Democrat, has announced that she will run against Prickett.
All four board members back the bond. Their challengers might find that to be valuable campaign fodder because the bond issue would result in a property tax increase of $145 a year for the average homeowner.
“I don’t know how this is going to play out with the bond at the same time,” Benton said. “I’m guessing that virtually everyone who runs will be in support of the bond.”
A less contentious race seen
The bond and the fact that this year’s contests won’t change the board’s Democratic-backed majority through 2016 mean this year’s election will likely be less contentious.
In the last two school board elections, Republicans gained the majority in 2009, and Democrats took back control in 2011. The elections saw increased voter turnout and record amounts of spending for the contests over who would lead the state’s largest school system.
Both Prickett and Tedesco were elected in 2009, along with Debra Goldman and Chris Malone. The four joined with incumbent Ron Margiotta to form a new 5-4 Republican majority.
But Margiotta’s defeat in 2011 gave Democrats a 5-4 majority. Resignations by Malone to take a seat in the state House and Goldman to head a nonprofit group in Wilkes County allowed the new majority to increase its control.
Benton, a Democrat, was appointed in February to replace Malone in District 1, which covers Wendell, Zebulon, Wake Forest, Rolesville, and parts of Knightdale and North Raleigh.
Fletcher, a Republican, was appointed in March to replace Goldman in District 9, which covers much of Cary. Fletcher was backed by the Democratic board members but didn’t get the support of Prickett and Tedesco.
Nancy Caggia, a longtime school volunteer and Republican who was passed over in favor of Fletcher, has announced plans to run for the seat.
Fletcher previously served on the board from 1993 to 2005. He has joined the board majority in votes such as restoring diversity as a factor in student assignment.
He said he hopes to help restore the board to its officially nonpartisan nature.
“I want to get us back to running the schools to meet the needs of the children,” he said.