HILL WINS, SEEKS BOARD CONSENSUS
By Cash Michaels
With the re-election of Wake School Board member Kevin Hill Tuesday night, the voters of Wake County made their message clear - “We want our school board back.”
“This is a great night,” Congressman Brad Miller [D-NC-13] told The Carolinian. “We turned the clock back fifty years” he said, referring to the Republican school board takeover of 2009, “then we [reset the clock] to 2011 again.”
By a 52-48 percent District 3 runoff victory, Hill trounced Republican-Tea Party challenger Heather Losurdo, a conservative candidate whose right-wing views, controversial background, and racial opinions about President Obama, Muslims and illegal immigrants helped to doom her candidacy from the start.
The race drew national attention from US Education Secretary Arne Duncan, National Public Radio, the national NAACP and MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” which hailed Hill’s win as defeating the current Republican-led school board’s efforts to resegregate Wake Public Schools.
And Hill’s big win also got kudos from NCNAACP President Rev. William Barber, a staunch adversary of the current GOP-led board.
“It is our great hope that after these elections, the single focus of Wake County School Board is to set an example not only for North Carolina but for the nation that all children deserve a high quality, constitutional, well-funded and diverse public education,” Rev. Barber, who went to jail twice opposing the GOP-led board, said in a statement Tuesday evening.
With Hill’s dramatic runoff victory after a month of partisan kitchen sink-like attacks from the Republican Party, the Tea Party, and even fellow Wake School Board member Republican John Tedesco, Tuesday night’s win completes a stunning Democratic five-seat election sweep of the school board which started Oct. 11th with the defeat of Republican Wake School Board Chairman Ron Margiotta in District 8.
Because Hill was just 51 votes shy of garnering the 50 percent lead over his three Oct. 11th challengers, he and Losurdo, who got 40 percent of that vote, were required to runoff Nov. 8th.
Now, with a 5-4 solid Democratic majority on the board, Hill joins District 8’s Susan Evans (who unseated Margiotta); District 6’s Christine Kushner; District 5’s Prof. Jim Martin, and District 4-Southeast Raleigh representative Keith Sutton, who trounced Republican challenger Venita Peyton 81-19 percent, in changing the divisive course of the Wake County School Board.
“This means the children can depend on the stability that this new board will provide for them in the future,” Lindy Brown, former Wake County Commissioner, said.
“This new school board will be working to make sure that all kids will get a good education,” said NC Rep. Rosa Gill [D-Wake-33], a former Wake School Board chairwoman who had Kevin Hill as her vice chairman.
Wake Democratic Party Chairman Mack Paul, who made sure that all five Wake School Board races were well funded and adequately staffed to get out the vote, said the two toughest districts were 3 and 8 because the Republicans redistricted both to assure GOP victories there.
At least 1500 Democrats had been drawn out of District 3 - North Raleigh, and yet, Kevin Hill still won by 900 votes.
It was a relieved, visibly happy Hill, who smiled and cheered with over 60 supporters at Milton’s Pizza in North Raleigh. Though a Democrat, Hill’s campaign was as apolitical as possible, addressing only his vision of where Wake Public Schools should be going.
Hill never said anything negative about Losurdo, except to compare their work experiences for voters to evaluate.
While there were numerous questions about Losurdo’s admitted history as a waitress in a New Orleans strip club, tour in the US Air Force, personal bankruptcy and work “overseeing” business loans in North and South Carolina, Hill’s 35-years in the classroom and as principal, left little doubt about his qualifications.
Several so-called “527 groups” that legally play no role in political campaigns, but do, using their own money, campaign for and against candidates, spent tens of thousands of dollars on both sides of the Hill - Losurdo contest, battering the opponent with oft times untrue charges.
When asked by The Carolinian, after his victory was clear, what did he have to say to those who vehemently opposed him, Hill said, “It’s time we come together for our children.”
Hill’s supporters, upon hearing his answer, loudly applauded and cheered.
“The over 600 volunteers that were out there shows that the folks feel strongly about our schools in Wake County and our children,” Hill said.
Hill says he hopes that his election means that all nine board members will come together and “work as a team, take politics back off the table, and try and make decisions that are best for all kids and all schools”
He also promised not to let Wake’s children and their parents, or the people who supported him, down.
When asked about who he believes should be the new Wake School Board chairman as of December 6th when the new Democratic board members are sworn-in, Hill, Tuesday night, said he didn’t have time to even think that far.
Hill briefly served as chairman in 2009 after then-Chairwoman Rosa Gill left to fill-out the unfinished term of NC House District 33 Rep. Dan Blue, who moved over to the state Senate.
After Tedesco and three other conservatives swept the 2009 elections and were sworn-in, Hill was removed as chairman in a power play by Republican Ron Margiotta and the new GOP majority.
Right before the meeting, Margiotta reportedly told Hill not worry about anything, only to apologize after the meeting, saying he couldn’t stop the other GOP members. Both Hill and former WCPSS Communications Director Mike Evans confirm that account.
Hill, and Sutton, who was pleased with his Democratic colleague’s win, are the longest serving board members of either party, with Sutton, who was appointed to take Rosa Gill’s District 4 seat, being on just a few months longer than the Republicans.
Theoretically that would mean that Hill would be returned to the chairman’s seat, since he’s not only served since 2007, but has roughly 35 years of teaching and administrative experience under his belt.
Hill has not said that he wants the gavel, and neither has Sutton. No doubt they, and the other board Democrats, will discuss the matter prior to December 6th.
Ironically, the bigger decision in terms of board leadership maybe whom the next board vice chairman will be.
Almost certainly it won’t be current Vice Chair John Tedesco, a partisan, divisive figure who has traveled the state, speaking to groups about instilling “Tea Party values” into public education.
It was a bitter John Tedesco, after Heather Losurdo conceded defeat Tuesday night, who tried to maintain a stiff upper lip as an instant minority board member, when he told reporters, “We'll see if they can show me a vision that's worth fighting for. If we're moving forward, I'll work with either [Chairman Hill or Sutton]. If they want to go back, then I'm going to put up a fight."
“You may have one or two who may want to do things differently,” Rep. Gill said, “but if the majority of them focus on doing the right thing for kids, then you’re going to see a well focused board.”
Tedesco may very well lead the loyal opposition on the board in efforts to disrupt policies he doesn’t like, but other than perhaps heading up a committee, observers agree that the District 2 representative’s days of leadership on the Wake School Board are over.
Yet, whomever the Democratic board chairman may be, as a symbol of trying to mend fences and heal deep wounds left by the Margiotta regime, may want a Republican vice chair.
But it would have to be one committed to board consensus, not consistent partisan 5-4 votes. A Republican board member willing to work for compromise on contentious issues.
One committed, during the 2012 presidential election year, to lowering the partisan political temperature on the board for the next four years.
Those qualities leave out District 1 member Chris Malone, who, second only to Tedesco, is a vocal partisan who preferred to openly mock the board’s Democratic majority, and is leaving anyway to run for the state House in 2012.
It may also leave out District 7’s Deborah Prickett, who memorably thanked the Wake Republican Party for its help in her 2009 election, and never wavered in her loyalty to Chairman Margiotta and Tedesco.
That leaves former Vice Chair Debra Goldman of District 9.
The embattled Ms. Goldman stood up to her Republican colleagues a year ago when they tried to ram a 16-zone neighborhood schools assignment plan through, voting with the Democratic minority to stop it. She also exposed the Margiotta/Tedesco plot to reassign thousands of African-American children from predominately white suburban schools back to Southeast Raleigh.
For those actions, Chairman Margiotta, Tedesco and Malone openly ostracized Goldman, vowing to target her during her re-election, thinking that they could hold the GOP majority for at least two terms.
And while there’s evidence that Goldman has worked her way back into the good graces of her Republican colleagues (her vote allowed Tedesco to become vice chairman after numerous deadlocks months ago), she may now realize the value of board consensus, and working with the Democratic majority.
If there is a Republican vice chair, that person, if they seek consensus, will have a hard time wowing the likes of Tedesco and Malone, if not Prickett.
The Democratic majority, beyond fixing Supt. Tata’s “blue” school choice student assignment plan to ensure that no more high poverty schools are created, and that low performing students have access to high performing schools, also have to prioritize the removal of several acts by the current GOP board.
First, they must cancel any contract the board has with the conservative Civitas Institute, the right-wing think tank funded by conservative activist Art Pope that was hired to train new Wake School Board members. Their services are clearly not needed now.
Secondly, the board must cut ties with Thomas Farr, the right-wing former NC Republican Party attorney who served as “in-house counsel” to the Republican board majority. Farr was brought onboard specifically to do battle with the NCNAACP when it was clear that the civil rights organization would haul the school board into court if it resegregated the schools.
And thirdly, the board must address the immediate crisis at Walnut Creek Elementary School in Southeast Raleigh.
Having opened only last August, the $25 million elementary school is already over 77 percent free-and-reduced-lunch student population; over 52 percent low-achievers, well over 100 students beyond its 800-student capacity, and is operating over $1 million beyond the budget of comparable wake elementary schools.
If the school continues with these high poverty problems that have emerged after only three months, it will be a disaster, critics maintain, and be exactly what Kevin Hill campaigned against.
The victory of the new Democratic majority also means teachers and administrators, once again, will be listened to, as well as parents, in the decision-making process, something many complained was not happening under the current GOP-led board.
And as for Supt. Anthony Tata, the retired US Army brigadier general whose Tea Party leanings and disrespect for President Obama, along with his scant experience in public education, are well documented, his future with Wake County Public Schools is in his hands.
Tata was hired a year ago next month on a three-year contract, and thus far, his only accomplishments have been to produce a new school assignment plan that still needs work, create two single-gender leadership academies, and allow himself to be used for political purposes by GOP members of the board.
Hill says he had no interest in seeing Tata go, but the ultimate decision will be Tata’s.
DOWNLOAD PODCAST OF "MAKE IT HAPPEN" ON THIS STORY NOW!