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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Truitt versus Tedesco: It matters.

Posted by on Thu, Oct 8, 2009 at 5:10 PM

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The question of the hour is, does Cathy Truitt have a chance against John Tedesco in the District 2 Wake school board runoff? Because if she doesn't, if it's a lock for Tedesco, then there may be no stopping the Republican right from rolling their wrecking ball over 30 years worth of successful school policies.

Which is not to say that the current school board did everything well, and in fact a lot of progressives (I'll include myself) are just waking up to the fact that the board's response to complaints from the suburbs -- and the school administration's response -- was less than adept. Or put it this way: When you lose an election this badly, mistakes were made.

But now the issue is whether the new school board, controlled by conservative Republicans, will be careful with the system it's conquered or put a rope around its neck and drop the floor.

All year the conservatives demanded that  Wake's school leaders to do a serious study of how well or badly their policies were working, especially for kids from low-income families. Didn't happen. Now that they're in, will the conservatives follow their own advice? Or dump the policies -- diversity, magnet schools, year-round schools -- at the first opportunity and study the consequences later?

The answer to that question isn't clear, but there's a lot of evidence that the new board will strike hard and fast if it can -- and if Tedesco wins, he's their decisive fifth vote. Truitt has sent mixed signals about busing and diversity -- she's for diversity, but not for busing, or anyway not forced busing -- but the thread that runs through her comments is that she won't act precipitously, recklessly.

She's an educator, after all, and she believes in the value of study and in checking your biases against the data as you go along.

So this is what I've been hearing today, in a string off-the-record conversations. Truitt is reaching out to moderates and progressives, and they are reaching out to her. She's in a very uphill fight against a political machine that's been on the ground for months and has heavy financial backing thanks to conservative Republicans like Paul Coble and Art Pope. But moderates in the Republican party are getting behind her and Democrats are thinking about it.

They'd better not think too long. The runoff campaign is NOW, and election day is November 3.

Truitt needs money and troops and she needs them immediately to have even a long-shot chance. I don't have a grasp of the numbers in this race, but the fact that Garner and Fuquay-Varina are holding municipal elections on November means a lot of folks who didn't vote the first time for school board will be voting the second time. Yes, Tedesco beat Truitt by 2-to-1 on Tuesday; but Horace Tart got almost as many votes as Truitt, and most of Tart's supporters -- assuming they come out again -- should move to Truitt's column, especially if Tart endorses her.

Viewed in this light, the front-page headline and photo of Truitt in the N&O this morning was exactly what the Truitt campaign needed -- for two reasons.

First, that "Forced busing is dead" language put Truitt squarely on the side of the critics while (implicitly) conveying the idea that there's more than one kind of busing. Most kids ride buses, and the only thing "forced" about it is that they're required to be in school until age 16.

Second, the giant story suggests that the N&O may now be struck by the realization that the hundreds (thousands?) of anti-Wake school system stories it's carried over the last many years, quoting every critic at length about the negative impact of reassignments on [insert name of child and neighborhood name here], just possibly was a bit of overkill? [Speaking of studies, there's one to be done -- the impact of the N&O's coverage on public perceptions of the school system's performance.]

Anyway, if the media -- and the N&O in particular -- will pay close attention to the debate over making change with care vs. making change with a vengeance, Truitt's chances improve geometrically.

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