This was the hot election that wasn't. Despite the controversy swirling around the Wake County Board of Education over year-round school assignments, diversity policies and the constant need for more schools, only two of the five district seats on the Oct. 9 ballot are contested. In two others, incumbents Ron Margiotta and Rosa Gill are unopposed. In District 5, incumbent Susan Parry is stepping down, and Anne McLaurin, wife of Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, is running unopposed.
In this North Raleigh district, voters have a choice of two outstanding candidates for the seat being vacated by Carol Parker. Both support the school system. They make similar critiques about what can be done better. They're both well-qualified and smart. You won't go wrong voting for either one. But you can't vote for both. So by the slightest of margins, we recommend MARTHA LAVANCE over Kevin Hill.
On the basic issues, the two don't differ. They want better schools, not just cheaper ones. They think schools can be built on smaller sites, and are open to public-private partnerships to build them. But they oppose such nostrums as building middle schools without auditoriums or high schools without stadiums. They want more athletics, arts and elective choices, not fewer. They support year-round schools, but oppose mandatory year-round assignments and think the school board made a mistake when it tried them. They're pro-diversity.
They do part ways in one area. LaVance wants the voters to decide on the sales-tax and transfer-tax options just approved by the General Assembly, and she thinks school boards should be given direct taxing authority, something the legislature isn't likely to approve. Hill isn't enthusiastic about any of those three ideas.
Their backgrounds, however, are quite different. Hill is a career Wake County educator—teacher, assistant principal, principal and one-time "PTA Principal of the Year"—who has gone on, after retiring, to teach on the education faculty at N.C. State University. He's endorsed by the N.C. Association of Educators, the teachers' association. He's got an insider's perspective and says so, while also promising to push the system to improve.
No doubt he would. But the job of a school board member is two-fold: Get the policies right, then go out and explain them—sell them—to an often skeptical community, including the county commissioners. We think LaVance will do as well at the first task and better at the second. She's a former business lawyer with three kids who've gone through the Wake schools. She's a past PTA president, a president of the athletic boosters organization, and a leader in other nonprofit groups. She is excellent on her feet and takes an independent stance toward the school system while speaking out strongly for its funding needs. "I have no ties to the school administration," she emphasizes.
The communications piece of this job is vital. Both Hill and LaVance would be good at it. But the fact that LaVance is not a product of the system, combined with her obvious vigor and intelligence, gives her an edge.
The third candidate in this field is Alfreda Wilson, an unaffiliated voter and parent who is well-intentioned but not nearly as well-qualified as the others.
In District 6 (central Raleigh), we once again endorse incumbent BEVERLEY CLARK, who's running for a third term. This is one of the districts that will support a progressive-minded member, and Clark has filled that bill admirably for eight years. She's a big part of the glue that's held the Wake system's diversity policies together against the strains of subdivision sprawl. She's been an outspoken proponent for school-related impact fees on new development or other revenue options (like the transfer tax). She hasn't been afraid to say so when the county commissioners have short-changed the schools, as so often in recent years they have.
Clark's been battling for the schools so long, most people forget that in a past life she was a lawyer working for the Nature Conservancy. She's far from single-minded and understands the county's growth issues as well as anyone in elected office today. She's earned re-election.
That said, the school system might consider paying challenger Sean O'Brien, director of curriculum development in the education unit at SAS, to figure out how technology-assisted individual instruction can lift up disadvantaged kids. His campaign material is a fount of interesting ideas coming out of his current gig and a previous one running Wake County's school programs for youthful offenders.
The two other candidates in this race emphasize their political independence. They are John Zal, who lists his occupation as information technology, and retired teacher Ed Armogida. Zal's a critic of the school board's diversity goal and its goal of having 95 percent of students reading at grade level. Too much is spent on the struggling students, he says. Armogida says the tone of the debate over school issues is often "uncivil," which is true. Neither has made a case for replacing Clark, however.
Three bonds questions are on the ballot, all relatively modest given Wake's growth. We recommend YES votes for: