At Saturday’s Wake County Democratic Party annual convention, the message from party leaders and members was clear: This year’s election is about schools.
The convention began with a two-hour training called Take Back Our Schools — a primer on how to lead a successful grassroots campaign to victory in October.
In addition to incumbents and hopefuls for offices in the cities of Raleigh and Cary, candidates for Wake County Board of Education Districts 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 will be on the October 11 ballot.
While off-year elections featuring only local candidates do not typically ignite party bases, recent moves by the Wake school board — especially its decision to eliminate the decade-old socioeconomic diversity policy — have angered many area Democrats.
“I don’t want to create high-poverty schools where they’re not necessary,” said Neil Riemann, a parent in the Cameron Park neighborhood who welcomes the presence of students from East Raleigh at his child’s school, Wiley Elementary. “Since this policy was eliminated, that seems to be where we’re headed.”
Riemann cited Walnut Creek Elementary, which will open in the fall with a projected 80 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches, as evidence that the school board has moved in the wrong direction.
With the chair, the school board has nine members. Of the five school board seats up for grabs, all but one — District 8 — are held by members who supported the old diversity policy.
“The bottom line is we have to retain those seats,” said Tammy Brunner, executive director of Wake County Democrats. “If we don’t retain them, we have no representation. Of course, we’d like to pick up the fifth seat.”
Board Chair Ron Margiotta currently represents District 8. He ran unopposed in 2007 and won with 3,059 votes. Although he initially announced last year that he declined to run for another term, he changed his mind last fall, saying that he had “a cause to fight for.”
Although board of education elections are nonpartisan, candidates run on money received from left- or right-leaning groups. The current board majority was elected in 2009 with money from Tea Party-affiliated organizations.
The Wake County Democratic Party raised almost $41,500 in the first three months of this year, up from almost $37,000 and about $36,800 in the same period of 2010 and 2009, respectively.
Candidate filing for school board elections begins July 25.