Thursday, September 29, 2011


By Cash Michaels

            Until District 4 candidate Venita Peyton walked in 45 minutes late, there were no Republican school board candidates who participated in last week’s 2011 Candidates Forum at Martin Street Baptist Church.
And even though the sponsors - the Wake County Voter Education Coalition, the NC Black Women’s Empowerment Network, and the Alpha Theta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. - had invited all of the candidates weeks in advance, most of the GOP’ers - Heather Losurdo, Eric Squires and Jennifer Mansfield (an independent who vied for the Republican endorsement) in District 3; and Donna Williams in District 6 - never even bothered to respond.
            Republican incumbent Ron Margiotta in District 8 declined, according to event organizers, and Cynthia Matson in District 5 called to cancel her appearance the day of after attending a Wake Voter Education Coalition meeting days earlier.

Peyton - a black Republican who was apparently compelled to attend after boycotting the previous Wake Up Wake County District 4 forum held in Southeast Raleigh, partially for political reasons (she accused the sponsors of being “Democratic [Party] controlled”), was politely received by the audience.
On her blog, Peyton supports the board’s GOP majority, and accuses NC NAACP President Rev. William Barber, a staunch advocate for Wake’s previous student diversity policy, of not caring about the education of black children.
Why would Republican school board candidates ignore Wake’s African-American voters and the golden opportunity to address their issues, even though the GOP candidates claim they’re running to ensure that “all” children in Wake County Public School System get the best education?
Indeed, are they, and their supporters, only interested in attracting more conservative-leaning anti-student diversity voters, so that the GOP can gain a super unbeatable majority on the Wake School Board as the crucial Oct. 11 Wake School Board elections draw near?
Already there are strong indications that what was officially supposed to be a nonpartisan election, just like in 2009 when the GOP first won their five-member majority, is anything but.

The State Board of Elections is still investigating who authored a political flier titled “Indoctrination,” which shows the five Democratic school board candidates under pictures of national NAACP Pres. Benjamin Jealous and NCNAACP Pres. Rev. William Barber (including one of Barber being led in handcuffs by Raleigh Police during a demonstration at the former Wake Schools headquarters in Raleigh), above the words, “These angry men have an agenda for Wake County Public Schools to continue with forced busing, social engineering and failed quota systems using your children and grandchildren as pawns in their scheme.”
Referring to the Democratic candidates, the filer continued, “They have 5 liberal allies running for election this Oct. 11th who have supported them in their fight against Wake County families. VOTE NO on these candidates and their agenda.”
Later on that same flier, it says, “It’s your children and your schools - NOT theirs.”
When none of the board’s Republican majority, or the Wake GOP itself, denounced the flier, District 4 incumbent school board member Keith Sutton, a Democrat, blasted them and their “Tea Party supporters” for name calling, attacks and division.
“I would hope that both members of the board majority and our opponents would denounce such tactics being used,” Sutton said, adding that the focus should be on, “…what’s best for our children, our schools and Wake County’s schools.”
The only response from any Republican on the school board was from Vice Chairman John Tedesco - an admitted Tea Party sympathizer who has spoken at numerous rallies across the state - who instead accused Sutton, the board’s only African-American, of name calling.
All of the Republican school board candidates (including Mansfield) back the GOP-led Wake School Board’s neighborhood school policy, which critics fear will create more expensive high poverty schools like Walnut Creek Elementary in Southeast Raleigh, which costs $1 million more to operate annually, has approximately 77% of its student population free-and-reduced lunch, is over 50% low-achieving, and is almost 100 students beyond capacity as of Sept. 22.
The top GOP candidates - Margiotta, Losurdo and Williams - have strong right-wing Tea Party ties, have been backed by major Republican figures like NC House Majority Leader Paul Stam, businessman Art Pope and Wake Commissioner Chairman Paul Coble, and are raising large sums of money from those sources.
Yet, all three, despite their promises to serve in a nonpartisan, apolitical fashion, have done anything but, thus antagonizing African-Americans.

As reported previously by The Carolinian, Republican Donna Williams in District 6 has vowed, “not to see red, not to see blue” if she’s elected to the school board. But as the founder and former president of the Northern Wake Women’s Republican Club, Williams is holding partisan fundraisers with GOP leaders, expressing her full support for the board’s GOP majority, and has the endorsements of Chairman Margiotta and the rest of the board’s Republicans.
In short, if there are any Democratic leaders supporting Donna Williams - a true sign of nonpartisanship - her campaign hasn’t identified any.

District 3 GOP candidate Heather Losurdo says she has “strong views” about helping “every child” if elected to the school board. But last week, other strong views that Losurdo harbored were exposed by a website called, “The Queen of Extreme” which labeled her a “Tea Party Extremist.”
An examination of Losurdo’s past Facebook postings and those of her husband, Craig, by Progress NC, a progressive advocacy group, reveal a strong admiration for the right-wing Tea Party, objection to illegal aliens coming into the US, and a profound dislike for President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
As has been widely reported, when Craig Losurdo posted a picture of a skunk on his Facebook page, and then wrote, “The skunk has replaced the Eagle as the new symbol of the American Presidency. It is half black, half white, and everything it does stinks,” referring to the president’s bi-racial heritage, his wife Heather wrote under it “LMAO,” meaning “Laughing my ass off!”

When interviewed about the controversy by WTVD-11, Losurdo admitted that “Yes, I support the Tea Party,” said she wasn’t extreme, and called the skunk reference about Obama “light-hearted humor.”
When asked how African-American parents of Wake students should receive this, Losurdo said, “I’m sorry if they take it any other way than it was meant to be. It had nothing to do with race. I have my opinions of the president, and last time I looked, it was ok to have my own opinion.”
That opinion apparently also includes another Tea Party-style bash at the president by her husband that Losurdo approved of, this one showing a little white girl with a mean look on her face, displaying an offensive middle “bird” finger, with the caption, “Thanks, Obama. You’ve spent my lunch money, my allowance, my inheritance, 35 years of future paychecks and my retirement. You asshole.”
The offensive posting about illegal aliens is ironic given that Craig Losurdo is awaiting sentencing in federal court for his 2007 role in hiring illegals and forging documents during the eight months he worked for a Texas company. Losurdo pled guilty, and cooperated with federal authorities to testify against the company.

And then there’s Wake School Board Chairman Ron Margiotta, vying for his third term as District 8 representative.
Margiotta has opposed Wake’s student diversity policy since he was elected eight years ago, but not until 2009 when four other anti-diversity foes joined him on the board to form a majority, did the New Jersey native gain the power to dismantle it, and push for a neighborhood school plan instead.
            Since he became chair two years ago, Margiotta has used the school board platform to publicly call opponents, “Animals coming out of their cages”; tell the public that the board had no intention of creating high poverty schools, all the while planning to make then still under construction Walnut Creek Elementary School exactly that; and try to get 6,000 black students reassigned from suburban schools back to Southeast Raleigh without a reassignment plan in place.
            Margiotta’s close ties with Tea Party businessmen Robert Luddy and Art Pope; his hiring of conservative attorneys to represent the school board and right-wing think tank Civitas Institute to orientate new school board members, and his refusal to ask the Republican-led General Assembly and Wake County Commission Board for more money for the school system in order to protect his political allies, critics say, leave no doubt about his partisan intentions to push an even more aggressive agenda on the board if re-elected.
            But the Republican chairman’s tactics have rubbed even fellow Republicans close to him the wrong way at times.
            While researching Margiotta’s campaign reports on file with the Wake Board of Elections, a blistering November 4, 2009 resignation letter to the “Citizens for Ron Margiotta” campaign, from longtime campaign treasurer Phyllis Bryson was found.
            Letters of resignation from a political campaign committee are considered public record.
            “Ron,” Ms. Bryson began, “Due to political, philosophical and ethical differences, I am resigning as your treasurer, effective immediately.”
            Ms. Bryson continued, “Many people have reported your attempts to influence them to the detriment of my family. I am stunned. It is difficult to believe that you are totally innocent, as you claim.”
            The Carolinian tried to call Ms. Bryson with the phone number listed, but it was disconnected. This paper also emailed Ms. Bryson at the email address listed, but she hadn’t responded as to what the issues surrounding her resignation, or allegations against Ron Margiotta, were.
            For his part, Mr. Margiotta has made it known in writing to The Carolinian that he has no intention of making any comment to this newspaper.
            UPDATE: Phyllis Bryson graciously responded to The Carolinian after presstime. She was interviewed about her resignation letter. That story will appear in The Carolinian next week (and on this blog).


Saturday, September 24, 2011


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                              September 24, 2011
Washington Convention Center
Washington, D.C. 
  8:30 P.M. EDT
     THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, CBC!  (Applause.)  Thank you so much. Thank you.  Please, everybody have a seat.  It is wonderful to be with all of you tonight.  It's good to be with the conscience of the Congress.  (Applause.)  Thank you, Chairman Cleaver and brother Payne, for all that you do each and every day.  Thank you, Dr. Elsie Scott, president and CEO of the CBC Foundation, and all of you for your outstanding work with your internship program, which has done so much for so many young people.  And I had a chance to meet some of the young people backstage -- an incredible, unbelievably impressive group. 
You know, being here with all of you -- with all the outstanding members of the Congressional Black Caucus -- reminds me of a story that one of our friends, a giant of the civil rights movement, Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery, told one day.  Dr. Lowery -- I don't think he minds me telling that he turns 90 in a couple weeks.  (Applause.)  He’s been causing a ruckus for about 89 of those years.  (Laughter.) 
A few years back, Dr. Lowery and I were together at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma.  (Applause.)  We've got some Selma folks in the house.  (Applause.)  And Dr. Lowery stood up in the pulpit and told the congregation the story of Shadrach and Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace.  You know the story -- it’s about three young men bold enough to stand up for God, even if it meant being thrown in a furnace.  And they survived because of their faith, and because God showed up in that furnace with them.
Now, Dr. Lowery said that those three young men were a little bit crazy.  But there’s a difference, he said, between good crazy and bad crazy.  (Applause.)  Those boys, he said, were “good crazy.”  At the time, I was running for president -- it was early in the campaign.  Nobody gave me much of a chance.  He turned to me from the pulpit, and indicated that someone like me running for president -- well, that was crazy.  (Laughter.)  But he supposed it was good crazy. 
He was talking about faith, the belief in things not seen, the belief that if you persevere a better day lies ahead.  And I suppose the reason I enjoy coming to the CBC -- what this weekend is all about is, you and me, we're all a little bit crazy, but hopefully a good kind of crazy.  (Applause.)  We’re a good kind of crazy because no matter how hard things get, we keep the faith; we keep fighting; we keep moving forward.
And we've needed faith over these last couple years.  Times have been hard.  It’s been three years since we faced down a crisis that began on Wall Street and then spread to Main Street, and hammered working families, and hammered an already hard-hit black community.  The unemployment rate for black folks went up to nearly 17 percent -- the highest it’s been in almost three decades; 40 percent, almost, of African American children living in poverty; fewer than half convinced that they can achieve Dr. King’s dream.  You’ve got to be a little crazy to have faith during such hard times. 
It’s heartbreaking, and it’s frustrating.  And I ran for President, and the members of the CBC ran for Congress, to help more Americans reach that dream.  (Applause.)  We ran to give every child a chance, whether he’s born in Chicago, or she comes from a rural town in the Delta.  This crisis has made that job of giving everybody opportunity a little bit harder. 
We knew at the outset of my presidency that the economic calamity we faced wasn’t caused overnight and wasn’t going to be solved overnight.  We knew that long before the recession hit, the middle class in this country had been falling behind -– wages and incomes had been stagnant; a sense of financial security had been slipping away.  And since these problems were not caused overnight, we knew we were going to have to climb a steep hill. 
But we got to work.  With your help, we started fighting our way back from the brink.  And at every step of the way, we’ve faced fierce opposition based on an old idea -- the idea that the only way to restore prosperity can’t just be to let every corporation write its own rules, or give out tax breaks to the wealthiest and the most fortunate, and to tell everybody that they're on their own.  There has to be a different concept of what America’s all about.  It has to be based on the idea that I am my brother’s keeper and I am my sister’s keeper, and we’re in this together.  We are in this thing together.  (Applause.) 
We had a different vision and so we did what was right, and we fought to extend unemployment insurance, and we fought to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, and we fought to expand the Child Tax Credit -- which benefited nearly half of all African American children in this country.  (Applause.)  And millions of Americans are better off because of that fight.  (Applause.) 
Ask the family struggling to make ends meet if that extra few hundred dollars in their mother’s paycheck from the payroll tax cut we passed made a difference.  They’ll tell you.  Ask them how much that Earned Income Tax Credit or that Child Tax Credit makes a difference in paying the bills at the end of the month. 
When an army of lobbyists and special interests spent millions to crush Wall Street reform, we stood up for what was right.  We said the time has come to protect homeowners from predatory mortgage lenders.  The time has come to protect consumers from credit card companies that jacked up rates without warning.  (Applause.)  We signed the strongest consumer financial protection in history.  That’s what we did together.  (Applause.)
Remember how many years we tried to stop big banks from collecting taxpayer subsidies for student loans while the cost of college kept slipping out of reach?  Together, we put a stop to that once and for all.  We used those savings to make college more affordable.  We invested in early childhood education and community college and HBCUs.  Ask the engineering student at an HBCU who thought he might have to leave school if that extra Pell Grant assistance mattered.  (Applause.)
We’re attacking the cycle of poverty that steals the future from too many children -- not just by pouring money into a broken system, but by building on what works -– with Promise Neighborhoods modeled after the good work up in Harlem; Choice Neighborhoods rebuilding crumbling public housing into communities of hope and opportunity; Strong Cities, Strong Communities, our partnership with local leaders in hard-hit cities like Cleveland and Detroit.  And we overcame years of inaction to win justice for black farmers because of the leadership of the CBC and because we had an administration that was committed to doing the right thing.  (Applause.)
And against all sorts of setbacks, when the opposition fought us with everything they had, we finally made clear that in the United States of America nobody should go broke because they get sick.  We are better than that.  (Applause.)  And today, insurance companies can no longer drop or deny your coverage for no good reason.  In just a year and a half, about one million more young adults have health insurance because of this law.  (Applause.)  One million young people.  That is an incredible achievement, and we did it with your help, with the CBC’s help.  (Applause.)
So in these hard years, we’ve won a lot of fights that needed fighting and we’ve done a lot of good.  But we’ve got more work to do.  So many people are still hurting.  So many people are still barely hanging on.  And too many people in this city are still fighting us every step of the way. 
So I need your help.  We have to do more to put people to work right now.  We’ve got to make that everyone in this country gets a fair shake, and a fair shot, and a chance to get ahead.  (Applause.)  And I know we won’t get where we need to go if we don’t travel down this road together.  I need you with me.  (Applause.)
That starts with getting this Congress to pass the American Jobs Act.  (Applause.)  You heard me talk about this plan when I visited Congress a few weeks ago and sent the bill to Congress a few days later.  Now I want that bill back -- passed.  I’ve got the pens all ready.  I am ready to sign it.  And I need your help to make it happen.  (Applause.)
Right now we’ve got millions of construction workers out of a job.  So this bill says, let’s put those men and women back to work in their own communities rebuilding our roads and our bridges.  Let’s give these folks a job rebuilding our schools.  Let’s put these folks to work rehabilitating foreclosed homes in the hardest-hit neighborhoods of Detroit and Atlanta and Washington.  This is a no-brainer.  (Applause.) 
Why should we let China build the newest airports, the fastest railroads?  Tell me why our children should be allowed to study in a school that’s falling apart?  I don’t want that for my kids or your kids.  I don’t want that for any kid.  You tell me how it makes sense when we know that education is the most important thing for success in the 21st century.  (Applause.)  Let’s put our people back to work doing the work America needs done.  Let’s pass this jobs bill.  (Applause.)
We’ve got millions of unemployed Americans and young people looking for work but running out of options.  So this jobs bill says, let’s give them a pathway, a new pathway back to work.  Let’s extend unemployment insurance so that more than six million Americans don’t lose that lifeline.  But let’s also encourage reforms that help the long-term unemployed keep their skills sharp and get a foot in the door.  Let’s give summer jobs for low-income youth that don’t just give them their first paycheck but arm them with the skills they need for life.  (Applause.) 
Tell me why we don’t want the unemployed back in the workforce as soon as possible.  Let’s pass this jobs bill, put these folks back to work.  (Applause.)   
Why are we shortchanging our children when we could be putting teachers back in the classroom right now, where they belong?  (Applause.)  Laying off teachers, laying off police officer, laying off firefighters all across the country because state and local budgets are tough.  Why aren’t we helping?  We did in the first two years.  And then this other crowd came into Congress and now suddenly they want to stop.  Tell me why we shouldn’t give companies tax credits for hiring the men and women who’ve risked their lives for this country -- our veterans.  There is no good answer for that.  They shouldn’t be fighting to find a job when they come home.  (Applause.) 
These Republicans in Congress like to talk about job creators.  How about doing something real for job creators?  Pass this jobs bill, and every small business owner in America, including 100,000 black-owned businesses, will get a tax cut.  (Applause.)  You say you’re the party of tax cuts.  Pass this jobs bill, and every worker in America, including nearly 20 million African American workers, will get a tax cut.  (Applause.)  Pass this jobs bill, and prove you’ll fight just as hard for a tax cut for ordinary folks as you do for all your contributors.  (Applause.) 
These are questions that opponents of this jobs plan will have to answer.  Because the kinds of ideas in this plan in the past have been supported by both parties.  Suddenly Obama is proposing it -- what happened?  (Laughter.)  What happened?  You all used to like to build roads.  (Laughter.)  Right?  What happened?  Reverend, you know what happened?  I don’t know.  They used to love to build some roads.  (Laughter.) 
Now, I know some of our friends across the aisle won’t support any new spending that’s not paid for.  I agree that’s important.  So last week, I laid out a plan to pay for the American Jobs Act, and to bring out -- down our debt over time.  You say the deficit is important?  Here we go.  I’m ready to go. It’s a plan that says if we want to create jobs and close this deficit, then we’ve got to ask the folks who have benefited most -- the wealthiest Americans, the biggest, most profitable corporations -- to pay their fair share.  (Applause.) 
We are not asking them to do anything extraordinary.  The reform we’re proposing is based on a simple principle:  Middle-class folks should not pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires.  (Applause.)  That’s not crazy -- or it’s good crazy.  (Laughter.)  Warren Buffett’s secretary shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett.  A teacher or a nurse or a construction worker making $50,000 a year shouldn’t pay higher tax rates than somebody making $50 million.  That’s just common sense.  
We’re not doing this to punish success.  This is the land of opportunity.  I want you to go out, start a business, get rich, build something.  Out country is based on the belief that anybody can make it if they put in enough sweat and enough effort.  That is wonderful.  God bless you.  But part of the American idea is also that once we've done well we should pay our fair share -- (applause) -- to make sure that those schools that we were learning in can teach the next generation; that those roads that we benefited from -- that they're not crumbling for the next bunch of folks who are coming behind us; to keep up the nation that made our success possible.
     And most wealthy Americans would agree with that.  But you know the Republicans are already dusting off their old talking points.  That's class warfare, they say.  In fact, in the next breath, they’ll complain that people living in poverty -- people who suffered the most over the past decade -- don’t pay enough in taxes.  That's bad crazy.  (Laughter and applause.)  When you start saying, at a time when the top one-tenth of 1 percent has seen their incomes go up four or five times over the last 20 years, and folks at the bottom have seen their incomes decline -- and your response is that you want poor folks to pay more?  Give me a break.  If asking a billionaire to pay the same tax rate as a janitor makes me a warrior for the working class, I wear that with a badge of honor.  I have no problem with that.  (Applause.) It's about time.  
They say it kills jobs -- oh, that's going to kill jobs.  We’re not proposing anything other than returning to the tax rates for the wealthiest Americans that existed under Bill Clinton.  I played golf with Bill Clinton today.  I was asking him, how did that go?  (Laughter.)  Well, it turns out we had a lot of jobs.  The well-to-do, they did even better.  So did the middle class.  We lifted millions out of poverty.  And then we cut taxes for folks like me, and we went through a decade of zero job growth. 
So this isn't speculation.  We've tested this out.  We tried their theory; didn’t work.  Tried our theory; it worked.  We shouldn’t be confused about this.  (Applause.)
This debate is about priorities.  If we want to create new jobs and close the deficit and invest in our future, the money has got to come from somewhere.  And so, should we keep tax loopholes for big oil companies?  Or should we put construction workers and teachers back on the job?  (Applause.)  Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires?  Or should we invest in our children’s education and college aid?  Should we ask seniors to be paying thousands of dollars more for Medicare, as the House Republicans propose, or take young folks’ health care away?  Or should we ask that everybody pay their fair share? This is about fairness.  And this is about who we are as a country.  This is about our commitment to future generations.
When Michelle and I think about where we came from -- a little girl on the South Side of Chicago, son of a single mom in Hawaii -- mother had to go to school on scholarships, sometimes got food stamps.  Michelle's parents never owned their own home until she had already graduated -- living upstairs above the aunt who actually owned the house.  We are here today only because our parents and our grandparents, they broke their backs to support us.  (Applause.)  But they also understood that they would get a little bit of help from their country.  Because they met their responsibilities, this country would also be responsible, would also provide good public schools, would also provide recreation  -- parks that were safe, making sure that they could take the bus without getting beat over the head, making sure that their kids would be able to go to college even if they weren’t rich.
We're only here because past generations struggled and sacrificed for this incredible, exceptional idea that it does not matter where you come from, it does not matter where you’re born, doesn’t matter what you look like -- if you’re willing to put in an effort, you should get a shot.  You should get a shot at the American Dream.  (Applause.) 
And each night, when we tuck in our girls at the White House, I think about keeping that dream alive for them and for all of our children.  And that’s now up to us.  And that’s hard. This is harder than it’s been in a long, long time.  We’re going through something we haven’t seen in our lifetimes. 
And I know at times that gets folks discouraged.  I know.  I listen to some of you all.  (Laughter.)  I understand that.  And nobody feels that burden more than I do.  Because I know how much we have invested in making sure that we’re able to move this country forward.  But you know, more than a lot of other folks in this country, we know about hard.  The people in this room know about hard.  (Applause.)  And we don’t give in to discouragement. 
Throughout our history, change has often come slowly.  Progress often takes time.  We take a step forward, sometimes we take two steps back.  Sometimes we get two steps forward and one step back.  But it’s never a straight line.  It’s never easy.  And I never promised easy.  Easy has never been promised to us.  But we’ve had faith.  We have had faith.  We’ve had that good kind of crazy that says, you can’t stop marching.  (Applause.) 
Even when folks are hitting you over the head, you can’t stop marching.  Even when they’re turning the hoses on you, you can’t stop.  (Applause.)  Even when somebody fires you for speaking out, you can’t stop.  (Applause.)  Even when it looks like there’s no way, you find a way -- you can’t stop.  (Applause.)  Through the mud and the muck and the driving rain, we don’t stop.  Because we know the rightness of our cause -- widening the circle of opportunity, standing up for everybody’s opportunities, increasing each other’s prosperity.  We know our cause is just.  It’s a righteous cause. 
So in the face of troopers and teargas, folks stood unafraid.  Led somebody like John Lewis to wake up after getting beaten within an inch of his life on Sunday -- he wakes up on Monday:  We’re going to go march.  (Applause.)
Dr. King once said:  “Before we reach the majestic shores of the Promised Land, there is a frustrating and bewildering wilderness ahead.  We must still face prodigious hilltops of opposition and gigantic mountains of resistance.  But with patient and firm determination we will press on.”  (Applause.) 
So I don’t know about you, CBC, but the future rewards those who press on.  (Applause.)  With patient and firm determination, I am going to press on for jobs.  (Applause.)  I'm going to press on for equality.  (Applause.)  I'm going to press on for the sake of our children.  (Applause.)  I'm going to press on for the sake of all those families who are struggling right now.  I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself.  I don’t have time to complain.  I am going to press on.  (Applause.) 
I expect all of you to march with me and press on.  (Applause.)  Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes.  Shake it off.  (Applause.)  Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying.  We are going to press on.  We’ve got work to do, CBC.  (Applause.) 
God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)
              END                          8:58 P.M. EDT

Friday, September 23, 2011


By Cash Michaels

            Calling it a “wonderful school,” District 4 Wake School Board member Keith Sutton says Walnut Creek Elementary, a $25 million high poverty school in Southeast Raleigh, has great promise, but still faces tremendous challenges that could inhibit progress.
            “Right now it’s [population] is up to around 850 students. The capacity of the school was for 800, so it’s already over capacity,” Sutton told the audience during the District 4 candidate’s forum last Thursday at the Walnut Creek Wetlands Center.
            “There are less than fifty white students, so it is overwhelmingly African-American and Hispanic,” he continued.
            The original goal was to keep class sizes at 20 students per, but that’s proved to be fleeting, Sutton concedes.
            EDITOR'S NOTE - On Sept. 22, Greg Thomas, Director of Communications for Wake County Public Schools sent the following note regarding Walnut Creek - The school was designed for 800 and has a current enrollment of 893. The school is proving to be quite popular, but we have been able to accommodate all the students who have arrived. If in the future, additional measures are needed to accommodate continued enrollment growth, that will certainly be examined and dealt with.
         Accurate achievement levels at the school won't be know until late Spring after the students take their End of Grade (EOG) test and/or final assessments are complete. Many of the students at Walnut Creek are new to WCPSS and there is limited data on the  kindergartners, so solid numbers aren't available yet.
        The percentage of students receiving Free of Reduce Priced Lunch is 77%. That figure is subject to fluctuation as families apply for benefits, or leave the school/system.

            “Because of the influx of new students, the school has become a very attractive school, and the word has gotten out into the community about the school, and the teachers, and the things that are there,” Sutton said. As a result, parents and guardians are finding ways to get their children into the school.
            By law, if an affidavit is presented verifying a child’s legal address in the district, then the school has to enroll them, Sutton said, causing administrators to deal with trying to maintain a reasonable teacher-to-student ratio, and explosive growth at the same time.
            “We’re already at the point where we’re having some initial conversations about putting mobile units on the campus of Walnut Creek, which is not something we anticipated to do,” the District 4 school board member said.
            “I don’t know they could even go. So we have some challenges at Walnut Creek.”
            Thus far, since the school opened in August, the projected over 80 percent free-and-reduced lunch and over 50 percent low achieving is holding, Sutton says. To address the challenging student population academically, the school day has been lengthened by 45 minutes - from 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Classrooms are outfitted with the latest technologies, from smartboards to flat screen TV’s to Wii systems.
            The teachers are handpicked from all over the country because they have the requisite experience in reaching students in high poverty schools, Sutton continued.
            Sutton, who has served on the board since being appointed in 2009 to finish out the unexpired term of Rosa Gill, also says that Walnut Creek Elementary is also the only school with both a universal breakfast, and universal lunch, meaning that every student eats both meals daily at no cost.
            Because of the academic demographics of Walnut Creek Elementary, its annual budget is approximately $1 million more than other comparable elementary schools, Sutton confirmed, because of all of the special resources.
            This is exactly what many critics of the GOP-led Wake School Board predicted earlier this year when Republicans voted to change Walnut Creek Elementary, while it was still under construction, into a neighborhood school.
            The logical question now is given Wake Supt. Tata’s emerging “blue” student assignment plan, which is expected to be finalized and presented to the board for review on Oct. 4th, how many more high poverty schools beyond the 60 the system already has will be produced, and can the county afford them in the face of dwindling resources?
            “Walnut Creek is going to be successful…but can we continue to make more Walnut Creeks in Wake County, especially given the funding challenges that we’ve had here at the local level?” Sutton rhetorically asked, strongly implying that the answer is no.
Sutton says the school system has had budget cuts for the past 3 to 4 years, while the student population continues to grow by 2,000-3,000 students each year. As a result, funding from the Wake County Commission Board, which has been flat for several years, amounts to a cut to per-pupil spending every year. 
            To add insult to injury, the Republican Board majority refused to ask either the GOP-led county commissioners, or the GOP-led General Assembly for more money.
            “We needed to advocate for more funding,” Sutton said, adding that more resources are needed in Wake’s schools. “ I think that was an issue.”
            Sutton wants to see “increased learning and better achievement” among students in District 4.
            When asked what plans he had to help attract qualified teachers to low-performing schools in District 4, Sutton said the board should give the superintendent and staff more resources to go out beyond Wake County in search of more qualified teachers. Sutton supports partnering with historically black colleges and universities - many of which started as teachers colleges - to recruit more black teachers into the classroom.
            Sutton also said “we need to respect and listen to our teachers more” so that Wake public schools are more attractive to prospective educators.
            Even though “neighborhood schools” is now the official policy for the Wake School Board student assignment, Sutton would still like to see student diversity as a goal along side proximity and stability.
            Regarding the needed construction of new schools to meet the projected 200,000 student population by the year 2020, Sutton agreed that a sizable bond referendum needs to be placed before the voters shortly so that construction could begin in time to meet the closing deadline.
            Republican leaders on the board realize the need, but say now is not the time to float a bond while taxpayers are dealing with a bad economy.
            Conservative candidates for the school board, like Donna Williams in District 6 and Heather Losurdo in District 3, maintain that they would want to find wasted money in the school system budget first before agreeing with floating a bond referendum.
            Sutton countered that given recent audit, there are no wasted funds, and the school system is operating as lean as possible.

            Sutton’s opponent in the District 4 race, Venita Peyton, failed to show up for the forum, complaining on her blog that she wasn’t consulted as to the format, and accusing the sponsors of being “Democratically controlled.”
            Of the five scheduled candidates forum sponsored by Wake Up Wake County and the Wake County League of Women Voters, Peyton is the only candidate to refuse to attend. No other candidate - Democrat or Republican - has complained.
            On Tuesday night, Sutton joined the board’s Republican majority in voting for establishing two single-sex leadership academies by next year.
            Modeled after similar, virtually all-black schools in Guilford County which have proven successful, the academies will be part of an expanding choice package of schools Supt. Tata says the system will offer under his blue student diversity plan.

Friday, September 16, 2011


By Cash Michaels

            The five candidates for the Raleigh City Council District C currently held by appointed Councilman Eugene Weeks all want the best for the growing, predominately black area. But Tuesday night, during the nonpartisan candidates forum sponsored by Wake Up Wake County, the North Carolina Center for Voter Education and the Wake County League of Women Voters, it was clear that despite their collective lack of experience in city government, they all had different visions for the future of the predominately black area.
            One candidate even felt that if the Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center, which is to house Raleigh’s police, fire and emergency communications departments for the entire city, is ever built, it should be in Southeast Raleigh on Martin Luther King Blvd. to “help lower crime” there.
            That candidate lives in predominately-white Heddingham, not Southeast Raleigh.
            During the two-hour forum held at Fairmont United Methodist Church in West Raleigh, the five candidates - Corey D. Branch, Shelia Jones, Paul Terrell, Councilman Weeks and Racquel Williams - gave their views on how to create jobs for Southeast Raleigh’s low-income population; whether, if elected, they would support construction of the controversial $200 million Lightner Public Safety Center; support a public referendum for half-cent sales tax increase to improve transportation; push to upgrade the district’s aging water and sewer infrastructure: promote healthier lifestyles in Southeast Raleigh; and encourage young people to get more engaged in voting and the political process.
            The special challenge for whomever wins the District C seat on Oct. 11th (unless there is a November runoff) - carrying forward the fight to bring more business opportunities and economic development to Raleigh’s poorest district; more affordable housing; and enhanced public safety services to further reduce crime.

            Corey D. Branch, an engineer and manager of Network Support at AT&T, grew up in Southeast Raleigh, graduated William G. Enloe High and is an alumnus of NC A&T University Class of 2000. Bringing about better economic development, and citizen collaboration on important issues are his goals for District C.
            “Until we start working together, nothing will improve,” he says.
Branch says one way to bring more jobs to Southeast Raleigh is to work with struggling businesses already there, helping them improve and grow, thus increasing employment. Branch is fully for attracting more economic small business development to the district as well, involving residents to the process. Branch agrees that in order to facilitate growth, District C’s aging water and sewer infrastructure must be upgraded, as do all of the candidates.
            Regarding the long stalled construction of the Lightner Public Safety Center - stalled by City Council since last year because of its hefty price tag, and design concerns that the 17-story structure housing police, fire and emergency communications services would be too vulnerable to terrorist attack - Branch says if elected, he would have to review the costs and design feasibility, and he would want the police, fire and communications departments at the table to further weigh-in.
            Branch says he regularly engages young people on both St. Augustine’s College and Shaw University campuses on topics ranging from engineering to voter registration. He also believes that that a healthier Southeast Raleigh is one where children eat better food prepared by their parents, as when he was a young man, and they have good recreational fun.

            Rev. Shelia Jones, who vied to be appointed to the vacated District C seat when Councilman James West left last October, only to lose to Eugene Weeks, says job training, gentrification and improving public transportation are her top issues as a candidate.
Rev. Jones said Southeast Raleigh residents need to undergo retraining, and have their skills redirected in order for them to take advantage of any new jobs developed there. Rev. Jones, who mentors students through her nonprofit agency, raised terrorist attack concerns with centralizing the city’s key public safety services in the Lightner Center, and recommended a “sufficient and suitable plan” of protecting those services before she could support moving forward.
            As District C councillor, Jones, a Shaw University alumna, would work to make sure district parents are better educated about healthier foods for their children to combat obesity.

            Paul Terrell, a self-described “compassionate conservative,” ran for the state House District 33 seat last year, losing to Rep. Rosa Gill. He lives in the upper-middle-class, predominately white Heddingham section of District C, but says if elected, he would represent the entire district.
            His top issues are improving transportation, lowering the city’s debt, and increasing public safety.
            Terrell said if elected, he would work with business and community leaders, the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, and local community colleges, among others, to help develop and attract more jobs to District C. He, too, said that more job training was needed.

            On the Lightner Public Safety Center, Terrell said there were “too many problems,” with "location and financing” being just two of them. He suggested putting the matter to a public referendum to determine whether it should be funded with bonds. 
Terrell then complained that city officials were, “…picking some of the most expensive real estate in the city of Raleigh to build this place. Why can’t they build it where it’s needed? Let’s say parts of Southeast Raleigh…Martin Luther King Blvd. If they can find the real estate suitable, that would be the perfect place for it. The best visibility helps lower the crime rate.”
“If we have police in the area,” Terrell added, “We’ll have less crime.”
            While Terrell agreed that children should be educated early about proper fitness and eating healthier, he warned that that wasn’t the role “ of the nanny state,” and that people should be allowed to “live their own lives.”

            Councilman Eugene Weeks, who is finishing out the unexpired term of former Councilor James West, says he deserves a full two-year term in office to build on the experience he’s already received, and the service he’s already rendered. His top issues are public transportation, small business development and youth initiatives.
            To develop more jobs for Southeast Raleigh, Weeks says he wants to further evaluate what is needed to spur business growth, help provide greater access to business loans for small businesses, and work to create skills and training centers.
Councilman Weeks was fully supportive of the Lightner Public Safety Center - named by the Raleigh City Council in honor of the late Clarence E. Lightner, the city first black mayor - even before he was appointed to the council. He says with the old Raleigh police headquarters closed down, and officers in temporary facilities spread throughout the city, he believes that the design plans can be modified and the center built more cost effectively.
Weeks says several community organizations and nonprofits, including the Hargett Street YWCA, area churches and the Southeast Raleigh Assembly, are already promoting healthier eating and physical activities throughout the district.
And regarding getting young people more politically involved, Weeks credited students at St. Aug’s and Shaw University campuses for their past political activities. He suggested that high schoolers could be better shown how to become more involved.

Racquel Williams, a small business owner, also vied for the District C appointment last October. She has been a community advocate for 13 years. Economic development, capital investment, and crime and public safety are her top issues.
Williams wants to use Shaw and St. Aug’s as “community resources” to help those with criminal histories be rehabilitated and trained for meaningful work and opportunities. She calls this “Hustleman University,” and believes this will help spur economic growth in Southeast Raleigh.
Regarding the Lightner Public Safety Center, Williams told Paul Terrell that his was a “really good answer’ regarding locating the facility in Southeast Raleigh. She feels the council was “getting a little out of hand with the money that we were spending” on the center, objecting to the $200 million projected cost of construction. Williams said she was “ a little disappointed” with the lack of public opinion on the center (even though the issue generated lots of public comment, and even a demonstration for it by the black community over a year ago).
Williams also suggested breaking down the plans for the Lightner Center in laymen’s terms so that the public can better understand it.
Per promoting healthier eating and lifestyle in District C, Williams says there should be more recreational after-school programs in the community, and more outlets that sell nutritious foods to those on public assistance.
Williams criticized District C’s traditionally low voter turnout, and said more must be done to engage young people in the political process, like citizen advisory councils (CAC). She also suggested modernizing participation through technology so citizens who can’t participate physically, can still be plugged in.


By Cash Michaels
An analysis

            Editor’s Note: For the next several weeks up to the Oct. 11th Wake School Board elections, The Carolinian will take a look at key candidates to evaluate how they would change board policy, if at all.
            This week, a look at Donna Williams in District 6, currently represented by Dr. Carolyn Morrison.
            District 6, located in the Cameron Village, Millbrook, North Hills and the Crabtree Valley areas, is home to Broughton and Sanderson High Schools; Carroll, Daniels and Martin Middle Schools; and Brentwood, Brooks, Douglas, Green, Joyner, Lacy, Lynn Road, Millbrook, Olds, Partnership, River Bend, Root, Stough, Underwood and Wiley Elementary Schools and Mount Vernon School.

            When Donna Williams, founder and former president of the Northern Wake Republican Club, addressed those attending the Wake School Board District 6 candidates forum last week, she declared, “ I will take a nonpartisan approach as I serve on this board.”

            “To me this is not a red or blue issue, this is about our children, it is about all of our children,” Williams assured, pledging to work with “all” school board members to improve the schools.
            But it didn’t take long for the conservative activist and mother of four grown children to show that despite her pledge to be nonpartisan and work with all, Williams’ conservative heart was solidly with the Republican Wake School Board majority at every turn.
            Interestingly, her pledge to be “nonpartisan,” for the sake of not scaring off any moderate voters, flies in the face of the very statement she issued when Williams announced her campaign August 11th.
            A statement with the very partisan title of, “Northern Wake Republican Leader Seeks School Board Seat.”
            “I want to make sure that the policies of the past two years are continued and extended during the coming term,” she stated, adding that, again, she could work with all of the members of the school board.
            That maybe because when the smoke clears after the Oct. 11 school board elections, the former Northern Wake Republican Club president fully expects there won’t be but one or two Democrats left, giving the GOP the super-majority they’ve admittedly desired.
Indeed, to Williams, Republican Wake School Board Chairman Ron Margiotta and company can do no wrong. Her Northern Wake Republican Club worked hard to elect the GOP school board majority in 2009. When members of the NAACP protested the board eliminating Wake’s successful student socioeconomic diversity in July 2010, it was Williams who organized a counter protest in front of the school system’s then Raleigh headquarters, claiming the board’s actions had “nothing to do with resegregation.”
            It surprised no one that none other than Margiotta was among the first to endorse her candidacy.

            “Donna Williams is one of the most respected and hardest-working leaders on the Wake County political scene,” Margiotta, who is running for a third term, wrote in his endorsement of her. “She will be a tremendous asset to the Board, and I know she will wage an exceptionally vigorous and issue-oriented campaign. I look forward to serving with her in the years ahead.”
            Even the board’s Republican vice chair, John Tedesco, is leading the social networking chant for Facebook “likes” in support of Williams’ candidacy.
During last week’s forum, while the three other candidates in the supposedly nonpartisan race - all Democrats - consistently blasted the school board for fracturing the community with divisive tactics, Williams, who was originally supposed to be attending a Republican fundraiser that night for fellow conservative Heather Losurdo in the District 3 race, would have none of it.
            Williams, 56, tried to credit the Margiotta Five with improvements in Wake’s graduation rate.

        “In the last year, they’ve actually improved,” she declared.
Problem is Wake graduation rate was steadily improving before the board’s GOP majority even got around to addressing academic achievement, which was virtually two years after it took office.
She also tried to credit the GOP majority with instituting programs like the Wake/NC State University STEM Early College High School, which was in development long before the Republicans took office.
A questioner from the audience had to correct Williams for her overreach.
During the forum, Williams said Wake County schools were still dealing with “many of the same issues occurring today [that] were happening thirty years ago…,” due at an “unstable assignment model, and poor policy choices.”
This week, she issued a statement trimming that alleged problem period from 30, to 20 years, without explanation of why.
Williams' charge flies in the face of the school system’s tremendous success just ten years ago, when it was being nationally hailed for its academic achievement through socioeconomic diversity by Forbes Magazine and the New York Times.

George Morgan, a former assistant principal, said if elected to the District 6 seat, his main focus would be on the students and making sure that they had all of the resources they needed to succeed.

Mary Ann Weathers, another former Wake educator and District 6 candidate, said in order for the Wake School Board to change, the “special interests” controlling the board had to be removed. She added that those same special interests were controlling the Republican-dominated Wake Commission Board.

            Christine Kushner, another District 6 candidate, says confidence needs to be restored in the Wake School Board, which must “move beyond the acrimony” and partisan politics of the past two years. She promised, if elected, to “...get to the issues of academics, curriculum, and put the focus back on students and teachers.”
            “I will come to the board as a parent, a leader and an advocate…,” Kushner said, adding that her children had had a “wonderful experience” in Wake County schools for the past 11 years, and she wanted that “for every child, in every school in Wake County.”
            Then, in an apparent slap at Williams, Kushner said, “I’m not an angry parent running for the school board with a personal or political agenda. I am someone who wants to advocate for public education in Wake County.”