A tough call in Durham, but it's Martin | Our Endorsements | Indy Week

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A tough call in Durham, but it's Martin

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It was really close. A mere 181 votes separated incumbent school board member Stephen A. Martin and Natalie Beyer when they ran for Durham school board district 4B last month.

As the candidates face a runoff June 22, the Indy's endorsement came nearly as close. And just as in our general election endorsement, we see finance-savvy Martin as the candidate already poised to help guide the school board through the 2011–12 budget, even leaner than the 2010–11 year local leaders are trying to reconcile.

Each candidate has disparate strengths. Beyer is a pragmatic decision maker who in recent weeks has stood with parents and teachers as an advocate for full classroom funding for next year, despite the budget woes trickling to the district from the state and county. She has worked for DPS, volunteered and become knowledgeable in local and national education policy. She also managed to narrow in on Martin in the May election, despite missing the endorsements of any local political action committees. Beyer also has now won the backing of Shea Neville, the third-place finisher in the May race for Martin's seat.

We agree Beyer would be an exemplary member of Durham's school board—just not at the cost of losing Martin, who now has eight years on the board and an intimate understanding of school policy and operations. Critics have questioned Martin's dedication to the schools and his priorities since his recent vote against asking the district's top administrators to take voluntary pay cuts to help save money. (Martin was joined in opposition by board chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown and members Omega Curtis-Parker and Fredrick Davis. He said executive salaries need to stay competitive to keep the district from losing top administrators.)

Martin's many years of financial experience balance the strengths and weaknesses of other school board members, achieving a critical balance as a team. In recent meetings, Martin has been able to explain to county commissioners intricacies of the schools budget with nearly the same acumen as budget staffers themselves.

In any other context, that would not be reason enough to keep Martin on the team. But given the weight of budget cuts this and next year, we see this as Martin's time to shine. In 2011–12, Durham's public schools will lose the federal stimulus funds that currently pay the salaries of 156 teachers, 60 academic coaches and 24 facilitators. The school board must make even more drastic cuts than those proposed for this coming school year, and we want Martin to help the board hit the ground running.

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