For as long as Wake County's had a unified school system (the product of a merger between the county and Raleigh systems in 1976), Wake school boards have performed a balancing act. They've assigned most students to schools in or near their neighborhoods. They've avoided the resegregation of schools by forming magnet schools and by assigning some students to schools that aren't so close to home. The goals of diversity and neighborhood schools were never either-or. But neither were they mutually reinforcing: More of the one inevitably meant less of the other.
The reason is simple demographics. Wake's low-income communities are concentrated in Raleigh and eastern Wake County. Wake's fast-growing suburbs to the west are predominantly middle-class and upper-class.
As the suburbs grew, the balance was strained to the breaking point. In last week's school board elections, it collapsed. "Neighborhood schools" advocates, as they call themselves, triumphed in all four district races, those located wholly or predominantly in the suburbs. The upshot is that the new school board, when it's seated in December, will have a 5-4 majority adamantly opposed to the use of "busing" for diversity.
The question going forward—and in this runoff election between two anti-diversity candidates, John Tedesco and Cathy Truitt—is whether the new board will manage the shift to neighborhood schools carefully or precipitously, and without regard to the consequences for low-income neighborhoods.
"Neighborhood schools" are not self-defining. The danger is that a politically motivated school board, playing to its base in the suburbs, will rush to judgment about assignment policies and unwittingly—or knowingly—leave some Raleigh and eastern Wake schools with overwhelming numbers of low-income students.
In the District 2 runoff, we support Cathy Truitt, a retired school principal and teacher who, although antidiversity, has spoken in favor of basing school board decisions on good data and an understanding of "best practices" elsewhere. In short, Truitt promises to look before she leaps, and she may be a useful brake on the four other antidiversity members.
In contrast, John Tedesco, who ran first in last week's balloting with heavy backing from the Republican Party and allied groups (Truitt is also a registered Republican), is by his own description a politician who'll deliver fast action, without thinking carefully first.
In Cary's District A, we reendorse Democrat Lori Bush over Republican Jennifer Robinson, who, at press time, had not received enough votes from the provisional ballots to garner 50 percent of the vote.
Although Robinson won more precincts, fewer than 245 votes separated Robinson and Bush in the October election. Two weeks ago, the school board race in the Cary district attracted Republican voters. But without that contest in the November runoffs, Republicans might stay home and Bush could win.
Bush opposes the proposed sewer plant in New Hill and supports greater environmental protection for Jordan Lake. She is considered fair and open-minded, and has showed a willingness to consider citizens' divergent viewpoints.