It's a year of kinder, gentler candidates in Wake County, if there are any candidates at all. Take Carol Parker. She's running for the Wake school board in District 3, up North Raleigh way. Some folks thought the school elections would be a serious throwdown over the "choice" issue--also known as neighborhood schools versus diversity. So here's Parker, touting Barbara Bush's three ways to raise your children: "Give them the best education possible" (Andover, Yale); "Give them good examples to follow" (kinder, gentler dad); "Give them plenty of love." (So what happened?)
Ah, but we digress. The point is, Parker, a retired BellSouth sales manager, is running unopposed--incumbent Tom Oxholm recruited her to replace him when he couldn't handle the time demands. Her position on school choice? "Boy, that's a hard one!" she says. Elaborating, she believes more choice is "definitely needed." But she hasn't seen anybody handle the issue better than Wake County. "I'll be receptive to new ideas," she adds brightly. No throwdown here.
Most of the school board candidates spoke at a forum last week sponsored by Assignment By Choice (ABC), the Cary-Apex citizens group trying to change school policies so their kids can "choose" the schools near them and minority kids from Raleigh can "choose" to stay home, too. Actually, the ABC group has a legitimate beef: There was one year they were "locked out" of the application process for Wake's elite magnet schools, and thus--ironically--locked into their neighborhood schools along with the economically disadvantaged kids the school board was busing in. They don't want it to happen again.
Susan Parry, the new school board chair and a candidate for re-election in District 5 (central Raleigh), likened the task of making every one of Wake's 128 schools a good one to maintaining a sound ecosystem. A little too much, or too little, of any key element, and species (schools) start to die. Given Wake's housing patterns, too much "choice" and not enough "diversity" will result in some schools having a lot of low-income children, which will make them less attractive to the upscale market, which leads to a downward cycle and, by the way, the best teachers won't choose the toughest schools either. Why would they? For the honor of going down with a "failing school"?
And like any healthy ecosystem, Wake's schools are growing--by 4,400 new students this year, Parry says, which is the equivalent of seven or eight new elementary schools, requiring yet another bond issue on the ballot this year.
The newest schools are, perforce, in fast-growing western Wake, which is also predominantly white Wake and wealthy Wake. More affordable housing in Cary-Apex-Holly Springs would help the school board's balancing act. Until then, however, the board relies on a quilt of magnet schools to draw kids in from the suburbs and busing to move the rest around.
Interestingly, though, "busing"--a loaded term if ever there was one--isn't on the lips of any of the school-board candidates, an indication that, this year at least, the old Jesse Helms-Tom Fetzer firebrands have deserted the battlefield. Moreover, ABC, their nicer pro-choice relations, couldn't find a candidate to run against Parker, nor could they find anyone in District 6 (Northwest Raleigh-Cary) to challenge incumbent Beverly Clark, whose lone opponent is young Victor Marks, a hapless Libertarian.
And in District 4, the Southeast Raleigh district that kids are bused from, unopposed incumbent Rosa Gill calls the focus on reassignment a diversion from the point, which is the steady improvement of test scores throughout the county. Gill, a retired teacher, remembers getting bused past the nearest "neighborhood school" as a black girl in segregated Raleigh, since the nearest school was all-white.
Parry has opposition, including Traci Griggs, who's thinks Wake's tepid sex-ed curriculum is "anything goes." And in District 8, the heart of ABC country, incumbent Jeff York faces retired businessman Ron Margiota, who served on a small-town New Jersey school board 30 years ago and likes neighborhood schools. But if the mild-mannered Margiota is carrying ABC's flag, he's not raising it very high.
Assuming Parry and York prevail, the long-standing consensus in favor of diversity and balance in the system will hold for another term.
Minding their Manners: Perhaps it was the genteel surroundings--Brier Creek Country Club, being a little bit of Cary come to Raleigh--but the candidates forum sponsored by the Triangle Community Coalition produced little in the way of fireworks either.
For Raleigh mayor, it's nice-guy John Odom, who promised good service, against nice-guy Charles Meeker, who wasn't there. The knock on incumbent Cary Mayor Glen Lang is that he isn't a nice guy, he's so abrasive! Where is Lang, incidentally? Another no-show, he could be in trouble against kinder, gentler Councilor Julie Aberg Robison, who promises effective leadership.
The standouts, by virtue of not blending in: Michael Regan, recruited by Fetzer for Raleigh City Council in District A, who pronounced the free market "a gift of God" and said Jesus Christ should save the world, not government. Roger Kosak, also a Republican who's been on the parks board, was the kinder, gentler District A candidate.
And conservative Michael Joyce, running again for Cary Town Council, is just as angry as ever. Attacking all things Lang-ian, he got a big cheer from the pro-development TCC crowd.
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