Diversity takes a beating in Wake

October 6, 2009 7:16:57 PM PDT
Unofficial results in the Wake County School Board elections Tuesday night showed a consistent theme. Candidates supporting neighborhood schools won big.Click here for the unofficial results

Turnout at the polls was surprisingly light considering how contentious the run-up to the election has been this summer. Four of Wake County's school board seats were up for grabs, and a clean sweep could tilt the board away from its longstanding policy designed to increase diversity in classrooms.

The current policy lets the school system shuffle students in an effort to achieve a better socio-economic balance. With a target of no more than 40 percent of students any school receiving free or reduced-price lunches, student can be moved from school to school to maintain that level of socioeconomic diversity. High levels of growth in southern and northern areas of Wake have also meant students have been moved to fill new schools and relieve overcrowding.

Opponents of the policy support a so-called 'neighborhood' school system - keeping students closer to home. Parents have been especially angered by frequent school switches and long bus rides.

Supporters of the policy say it helps maintain quality schools throughout the district and scrapping it could mean a return to segregation.

When all the votes were counted Tuesday, Chris Malone got 58 percent of the vote in District 1 - meaning he'll avoid a November runoff. Deborah Prickett got a solid 64 percent in District 7, and Debra Goldman picked up 58 percent in District 9.

"It is absolutely huge because it means that the right people got out to vote," said Goldman.

The only community school candidate who failed to win outright was John Tedesco in District 2 who got 49 percent to his closest challenger's 24 percent. He'll likely face Cathy Truitt in November if she wants it.

If community schools supporters can win all four seats, those new board members are expected to team up with existing board member Ron Margiotta to gain a 5 to 4 majority in major policy decisions.

"Well, I think it's going to have to be in baby steps and I know that these four candidates know that they're going to have to work with a lot of different people, listen to a lot of different groups," said Gail Marold with the group Take Wake Schools Back.

A group calling itself Friends of Diversity gathered in Raleigh Tuesday night hoping for a victory, but the candidates they supported all lost.

They said they're disappointed about the outcome of the election - but they're hoping the school board members will work together for the good of the community.

"My heart is with the kids of Wake County - the school system - and hoping that we can try to preserve as much as we can of the positives that we do have in place and still maintain diversity in our school systems and not only that but maintain healthy schools and a healthy community," said one participant.

The new school board members will hold their first meeting in December.

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