by Bob Geary
"Neighborhood schools" candidates went 4 for 4 in the Wake school board elections. Actually, it was 3.99 for 4. One could be facing a runoff, but he got 49.4 percent of the vote, and the runner-up less than half that amount -- and the runner-up is for neighborhood schools too. (District by district results here.)
So long story short, there are now five members of the school board who represent suburban Wake County districts and four who represent Raleigh districts. And the question is, will the suburban representatives act to separate their schools from the city schools, which is -- as Gerald Grant said in his book -- the essential story of why almost every other city in America besides Raleigh has lousy schools and a declining tax base. That's what neighborhood schools means, after all. It means separate schools for separate places.
At the Busy Bee in downtown Raleigh tonight, where Democrats gathered around Mayor Charles Meeker -- who was re-elected to a fifth term -- the worry was that the new five-member school board majority will move quickly, perhaps at their first meeting, to junk "diversity" and fire School Superintendent Del Burns. The News and Observer is reporting that one of the newly elected board members, Deborah Prickett, says they won't act hastily. We'll see. If their goal is a change of emphasis away from diversity and toward neighborhood assignments, they'll almost certainly go slow. But if they intend to do what they said they'd do if elected, which is assign kids to the schools nearest home and achieve diversity by "other means" (i.e., not bother with it), then they'll
move fast, before diversity's defenders have a chance to get organized.
The majority will doubtless choose Ron Margiotta to be board chair. He's the only one of the five who won't be brand new. In addition to Prickett, Margiotta's mates will be Debra Goldman, Chris Malone, and probably John Tedesco, though Tedesco is the only who fell just short of 50 percent and could therefore be challenged to a runoff by the second-place finisher, Cathy Truitt. Horace Tart, the incumbent in that (District 2) race, finished third.
Will they fire Burns? Bet on it. The Wake Schools Community Alliance, in selecting its slate, was looking for candidates who'd get rid of him. Tonight's winners -- Prickett, Goldman and Malone, and Tedesco if he joins them -- each carried the WSCA banner.
(All four were backed by the Republican Party too. Wake GOP Chair Claude Pope claimed victory tonight as a result of their wins and John Odom's victory over Democrat Rodger Koopman is the District B City Council race in Raleigh. Can't blame him.)
Del Burns is a product of the Wake school system, the leaders of which have stood proudly for diversity -- and against segregated schools -- for 30 years. It would be tough to throw out the policy over the superintendent's objections. Much easier to ditch Burns and the policy in a package deal.
Again, if the majority chooses to take a gradual approach, maybe they don't can Burns right away. But gradual is not a word they were using.