This story has been amended from its original version to correct the misspelling of Heather Losurdo’s name. The Record regrets the error.
Early in the election season, the race for District 3 of the Wake County School Board already offers clear choices to voters — with a caveat.
The North Raleigh district’s incumbent, Kevin Hill, has not yet officially declared his intention to run for re-election. As a teacher education instructor at North Carolina State University, he must receive approval from the university system to make such a move.
But if he receives approval, he will enter the race.
A map of the school board districts.
Heather Losurdo announced her candidacy for Hill’s seat more than two weeks ago, making her the first Republican-backed challenger to enter a school board race in which all of the Democrat-aligned incumbents are facing re-election.
A Hill-Losurdo battle would pit against one another two candidates with very different resumes and stances on the issues. The election would give District 3 voters very clear choices on supporting the new school board community schools policy or not.
Hill spent his entire career as a teacher and principal in the Wake County Public School System before retirement, when he began preparing new teachers at NC State and successfully ran for the school board in 2007.
After a career in the Air Force, Losurdo worked as an accounts manager for First Union National Bank, overseeing a portfolio of about $2 billion in small-business loans for North Carolina and South Carolina customers.
As a parent of two middle school children in Wake public schools, Losurdo presents herself as invested in the school system, but not an insider.
“I believe I’m the best person to represent District 3 because I’ve paid attention,” she said. “I’m a mom. I understand when our children come home and my biggest concern is that the bar of expectations has been lowered across the board for all children. And I believe that I bring to the table a creative mindset, a fresh set of eyes that have not been involved in the system per se.”
Finishing up his first term — of which the last year and a half has been spent on a board marked by partisan rancor over monumental changes to the school system — Hill points to challenges that he has helped the board meet.
“For three years the district has had a declining share of funds from the state and, in a nominal sense, from the county,” he said. “This is the third year that school appropriations have been flat from the County Commission. With an increasing number of students, that’s a cut per pupil. We’ve been able to mitigate, if you will, the impact on classrooms.”
Hill voted with his Democrat-backed colleagues against the board majority in 2010 when they abolished the decade-old socioeconomic diversity policy. He is concerned about funding for high-poverty schools such as Walnut Creek Elementary, which will open under a new student assignment policy.
“If indeed a plan creates more high-poverty, low-achieving schools, and we must make those communities equitable and equal, yes, it will cost more money,” Hill said.
With finite resources in years of tight budgets, he added, such moves force tough decisions about where to allocate resources without funding increases.
“You either re-slice the pie or bake a bigger pie,” he said.
“What I do know is that a school in that situation does need different resources,” she said. “It needs a different approach.”
But she cautions that the difference does not include more money. She favors the district partnering with local businesses and universities to provide learning opportunities for students.
And she favors more charter schools.
Charter schools, Losurdo said, “are giving the education that they’re giving for less money per student,” she said.
“Charter school high-poverty graduation rates: high,” she added. “Student achievement: high. What are they doing? Let’s find out. Let’s find out what they’re doing and let’s find out if we can implement that in the Wake County Public School System so our high-poverty students can achieve all of that.”
Unlike Losurdo, Hill does not support the North Carolina General Assembly’s attempts to raise the cap on charter schools in the state.
“I think it has a negative impact on schools. Due to a recent [North Carolina Court of Appeals] ruling, charter schools can take an increasing share of public dollars from the system,” he said.
“I don’t believe we should have a dual school system,” he added. “I believe we should have a public school system.”
Charter schools are considered public schools. They receive public money that would go to traditional public schools, but charter schools can operate with more autonomy when budgeting, hiring staff and developing curricula.
One way many charter schools seem to achieve more with less funding is by paying teachers less than teachers in their traditional counterparts. In high-poverty schools around the country, this often results in high teacher turnover.
Lusordo does not blame poor teacher retention in charter schools — or any school — on salary.
“I don’t believe that in most cases teachers come or go because of money,” she said. “Teachers typically don’t get into teaching for the money. They typically have a service heart.”
Losurdo supports merit pay for teachers deemed highly effective. Hill does not.
“It’s my belief that that most teachers give 100 percent effort,” he said. “They want kids to be successful.”
Hill does not believe that the prospect of extra money for high state-test scores will motivate teachers to do better.
What will motivate Wake County voters Oct. 11 remains to be seen.