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Wake School Board Member Challenging Incumbent for Schools Superintendent

On November 6th, North Carolina voters will elect a new governor. They'll also make selections for Council of State offices. Isaac-Davy Aronson has this look at the two candidates for Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The schools superintendent is tasked with implementing policies set by the state Board of Education. Incumbent June Atkinson says the record shows she's been a capable manager.

June Atkinson: "When I became state superintendent, our graduation rate was 68%, and just this past year, our graduation rate went to an all time high of over 80%. We've also been recognized as one of 6 states for getting the most student achievement out of every dollar spent."

Atkinson's Republican challenger, Wake County School Board member John Tedesco, says it's not enough.

John Tedesco: "We have an increased number of children who are graduating that need remediation when they graduate, when they go into our community college systems or our college systems unprepared, and that costs taxpayers twice and it costs those children twice. We have an increased number of children graduating who can't even read on grade level. And we have a state that ranks fourth in the country in suspensions."

Atkinson says student reading levels is among the issues she wants to focus on in a third term. But Tedesco says it's time for a change. He wants to see power decentralized, with more decisions being made by local districts. Atkinson points out that many of Tedesco's proposals would require legislative action, like reducing the department's budget. Tedesco says, yes and the governor and legislative leaders are likely to be Republicans.

John Tedesco: "And I know how to work with these folks, I've been endorsed by many of these folks, supported by many of these folks, to accomplish these agendas. My colleague, my opponent, with all due respect, Ms. Atkinson, has had trouble in that area, has had trouble even working with her own governor, as we all saw."

Tedesco is referring to Governor Bev Perdue's move in 2009 to create a new appointed position of chief executive of the public school system. Atkinson won a court battle to remain the state's sole education chief.

But Atkinson says she hasn't seen evidence of Tedesco's ability to work with others.

June Atkinson: "I have watched the Wake County Board work, and I have seen my opponent create chaos rather than create collaboration."

Tedesco was pivotal in controversial changes to Wake County's student assignment plan, which set off years of wrangling and power struggles on the board. But he says there were many other areas in which he produced collaborative results, including budget savings and a focus on disadvantaged students.

Isaac-Davy Aronson is WUNC's morning news producer and can frequently be heard on air as a host and reporter. He came to North Carolina in 2011, after several years as a host at New York Public Radio in New York City. He's been a producer, newscaster and host at Air America Radio, New York Times Radio, and Newsweek on Air.
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