KEITH SUTTON VENITA PEYTON
[ UPDATE - District 4 candidate Venita Peyton has now
seen fit to attack my family. I respond. Check it out!]
By Cash Michaels
With the Oct. 11th elections looming next Tuesday, the gloves are off now in the District 4 Wake School Board race between incumbent Keith Sutton, and challenger Venita Peyton.
In an October 3rd press release, Peyton, who previously lost to Sutton when he was appointed to the board in 2009 to fill out the unexpired term of Rosa Gill, accuses the current District 4 representative of being “doubleminded” in not supporting neighborhood schools; hiding “under the arm” of NCNAACP President Rev. William Barber (whom Peyton has previously accused of not caring about black children); not living in Southeast Raleigh; being a “follower” of the Democratic minority on the school board; and voting against a proposed new Algebra 1 placement policy.
“For these reasons, he needs to go,” Peyton declares at the end of her release.
In response, Sutton refutes Peyton’s allegations, adding that he doubts that she even wrote her own press release. This will be his first election to the four-year term.
He is currently the only African-American on the board, as Peyton would be if she were elected.
In a taped interview for the Power 750 WAUG-AM radio program “Make It Happen,” airing this afternoon at 4 p.m., Peyton said she is running because she believes herself to be, “… the one person who will be open and direct with all of the people in my district about what is needed for our area on the Wake County School Board.”
“I have been especially disappointed with the way poor children have been treated,” Peyton, a Republican who has lost her bid for elective office four times before, continued. “They have been bused around for the past several years, and no one seems to have taken up their cause.”
She sees herself as a “voice” for Southeast Raleigh parents who are unable to attend meetings, or be heard.
Ironically, while Peyton chides Sutton for voting along with the board’s four-member Democratic minority more times than not, thus calling him a “follower,” she has not said what policy differences she’s had with the GOP majority since they took over in 2009.
Peyton prides herself for the relationship she’s built with board Chairman Ron Margiotta and Vice Chair John Tedesco, comfortably calling both by their first names in her interview; defending what the board Republicans have done thus far despite against charges of bias from the NCNAACP; and if elected, hopes to further their neighborhood schools agenda, believing it good for Southeast Raleigh despite the prospect of future under-funded high poverty schools.
Peyton is so loyal and protective of the board’s GOP majority that, fearing that Margiotta was under attack in the black community, she wrote a recent letter to The Carolinian editor titled, “Ron Margiotta is NOT a Racist.”
“Despite those who want to defile the name of this good man, we all should be quite careful before we label someone who we truly do not know,” Peyton, who has, herself, labeled NCNAACP President Rev. Barber, the nonprofit group Great Schools in Wake Coalition, and even Keith Sutton himself, as not serving the needs of Southeast Raleigh children, wrote at the end of her missive.
She even refused to take part in a Wake Up Wake County-sponsored candidates forum, charging that it was “Democrat controlled.”
In fact, Peyton recently wrote on her blog, “It's obvious now. NC NAACP President William Barber is not concerned with the children in the Wake County Public School System,” later adding, “We should ask: "Is William Barber's agenda about advancing minorities, the NC NAACP or just William Barber"?
When asked why Peyton has such bitterness towards him, Rev. Barber told The Carolinian he doesn’t even know her, which means, by Peyton’s own definition, she has not been, “quite careful before we label someone who we truly do not know.”
Peyton is four-square behind a new proposed policy to place more black eighth-graders in Algebra 1, saying that it gives more children “a chance,” but accuses Sutton of opposing it, along with the other three board Democrats.
Sutton, in fact, agrees that more black students should take Algebra 1, but like colleagues Kevin Hill (a former principal), Dr. Carolyn Morrison (a former principal) and Dr. Anne McLaurin, has concerns that the EVAS computer predictor that any child scoring a 70 percent chance of passing Algebra 1 is too low.
According to school board member Kevin Hill, an educator, middle school principals are telling him that threshold should be raised to 85 percent, otherwise too many students who don’t have the proper foundation for Algebra 1, and are barely passing courses with D grades, will fail.
Peyton said she was told by Southeast Raleigh High Principal John Wall that the policy was just fine.
Sutton says he wants to make sure there is both a parental, program and teacher support system in place to help struggling Algebra 1 students before the policy is passed if the threshold isn’t raised. He asked the board majority to consider his request.
The policy was supposed to have been approved at Tuesday’s board meeting, but was taken off the agenda at the last minute.
Peyton, a big fan of Wake Superintendent Anthony Tata, is for single-gender leadership academies (Sutton voted for them, though Peyton says only that’s because “There’s an election going on”) and charges that many of the Democratic candidates running this time were “venomous” in their opposition, and “have such low expectations of our children.”
In fact, many questioned why Wake County Schools needed them, given that normally these academies are implemented in public school systems whose black students aren’t performing anywhere as well as in WCPSS.
“I want to have a chance to serve so that I can sit with these folks [in District 4] and have them tell me, “Venita, here’s how we feel,” Peyton says. “I am more interested in hearing from the parents with children in the school system now.”
“I have to represent my district,” Peyton says, when asked if Margiotta and company want her to vote a certain way, trying to put a little distance between her and her Republican colleagues when challenged.
For his part, Sutton readily dismisses Peyton’s most pointed charges, countering that she’s spewing nothing but misinformation being fed to her by the GOP machine, and says parents in District 4 already see that they have a champion.
Sutton doesn’t live in Southeast Raleigh, but in nearby Heddingham, where state Sen. Dan Blue and other prominent black figures reside. But District 4 covers both East Raleigh and Southeast Raleigh, he says, so he represents all in it. Besides, Sutton asked, why would Peyton criticize him for living there when he saw her campaigning two blocks from where he lives?
Sutton says he still feels that diversity should be part of the WCPSS student assignment policy, but believes it should play an equal role along with proximity, stability and student achievement to prevent the creation of any more high poverty low performing schools.
Ironically, Peyton accuses Sutton of not being supportive of Walnut Creek Elementary School, the new $25 million high poverty school in Southeast Raleigh that 77 percent free-and-reduced lunch (and breakfast), over 50 percent low-achieving, spends more than $1 million operationally compared to comparable elementary schools, and is currently 102 students beyond its 800 student capacity and growing, requiring the system to now figure out where it can place trailers on campus, and threatening to enlarge average class sizes.
Sutton says Walnut Creek was never conceived to be a neighborhood school before this board came in, but once the decision to change it was made, he has been very supportive, working overtime with Supt. Tata, area superintendent and the school’s administration to develop programs and strategies to help that student population succeed.
“[I support those families] having the opportunity to end their children to a brand new school right here in their neighborhood,” he says. “[Peyton] should do her homework before she, and those who wrote the press release for her, open their mouths!”
Sutton says he’s not under anyone’s “arm,” unlike Peyton who seems so protective of Chairman Margiotta and the rest of the GOP-led board. In fact, he says, when the issue was right for District 4, “You’ve probably seen me join the Republicans more than you’ve seen the Republicans join the Democrats over the past two years, pointing to his vote to support the single-gender leadership schools.”
“I thought it would be good for Southeast Raleigh,” Sutton says, revealing that he actually spoke to Supt. Tata about that shortly after he took over last January.
Sutton says he’s been very visible in the district, working with the community and principals on issues like lowering student suspensions. The record will show, Sutton insists, that he’s fought hard for District 4.
“Bad claims and bad information,” Sutton says of Peyton’s attacks.
“Not only do I have the experience over the past to years to bring to this position,” he adds. “ I’m one that folks can count on to fight for them and advocate for them on policies that support the children of District 4. But most of all, they can count on me to be honest and upfront. Good information, bad information, I’m going to give it to them straight.”
“For those reasons and more, I’d like for District 4 to support me, like you have in the past,” Keith Sutton said.