Kevin Hill (D) and Heather Losurdo’s (R) campaigns are entering the home stretch of a runoff election that is the culmination of the most hotly contested school board elections in Wake County’s history.
Tuesday’s election will decide whether a liberal or conservative majority takes control of the Wake County Board of Education—and, ultimately, a new student assignment plan that will be the deciding factor in the future of Wake’s schools.
Both candidates claim that they won’t depart from the framework of the choice assignment plan that Superintendent Tony Tata developed and the board recently adopted. However, Losurdo has built her runoff campaign on the argument that a vote for Kevin Hill means a return to forced busing.
Losurdo’s campaign manager Dennis Berwyn justifies the claim with two reasons.
“One, [Hill’s] voting record shows he supports it,” Berwyn said.
The number two reason rests on an “if” claim. If the four other diversity supporters on the board decide to reinstate the diversity policy, Hill will vote with them, Berwyn said.
Christine Kushner is one such diversity supporter; she was elected into the District 6 school board seat Oct. 11. While it may need some adjustments, she said, “I’m optimistic with the plan.”
Hill has said repeatedly the old diversity policy is water under the bridge and as to the charge he’ll bring back forced busing he said, “It’s absolutely false. The plan we have is the plan we will have.”
Hill voted against the new plan because, he said, it didn’t have set aside seats at the high-performing schools for children in low-performing nodes.
Hill said in a radio show this week that such a caveat doesn’t represent a return to forced busing, because the plan still gives parents the choice of where to send their children. He just wants to make sure the seats are available.
“He does keep saying it, but he doesn’t mean it,” Berwyn said.
Ads and Campaign Mailers Go Hard
In four of Losurdo’s six campaign mailers she accuses Hill of representing a return to forced busing.
By contrast, Hill has sent three mailers, only one of which confronts Losurdo directly: “A vote for Losurdo = A vote for John Tedesco for Chair.”
However, a group called Common Sense Matters has sent a flurry of mailers attacking Losurdo for being linked to the Tea Party. Another group called Progress Action NC set up a website denouncing Losurdo as the “queen of extreme.”
One of Losurdo’s mailers reads, “Hill wants to balance performance, not raise it.” However, the new plan itself seeks to balance performance in schools, a cornerstone conservative board members and candidates had previously expressed doubt over.
“They’re spending an awful lot of money and have more room to grow their vote,” said Hill’s campaign consultant Perry Woods of the Losurdo campaign. “One of the great things about local elections,” he added, “is that money is not the most important thing.”
Berwyn, however, said the Losurdo campaign is garnering support beyond money.
“There’s a Wake County citizen who is down in Dominica and he’s making phone calls for us,” Berwyn said.
“Most people have already made up their mind,” Woods said. “It’s just a question of who shows up.”
Dems Come Out Heavy in Early Voting
If early voting results are an indicator of who will come out to vote in the runoff then they speak very highly for Kevin Hill.
In each of the 5 school board races in October, early voting results predicted the top vote getter.
As of Friday, in the one stop voting of the District 3 run off 463 Dems, 263 Republicans and 177 unaffiliated have voted. Even if every single unaffiliated vote swung for Losurdo, it wouldn’t be enough for a majority.