Kevin Hill’s re-election to the Wake County Board of Education Tuesday completed a sweep of the five school district elections this year by Democratic candidates. His victory gave control of the board to a moderate majority, ending two tumultuous years of conservative Republican rule.

In the runoff for the District 3 (North Raleigh) school board seat, Hill, a career educator (teacher, principal, university professor) and registered Democrat, defeated Republican challenger Heather Losurdo by about 900 votes and a margin of 52.3 percent to Losurdo’s 47.7 percent of the total. After a hotly contested campaign, the 20,400 votes cast for both candidates was about 4,000 more than in the first round of voting, Oct. 11.

In that election, Hill fell just 51 votes short of an outright majority with 49.7 percent to Losurdo’s 39 percent in a four-way contest.

Hill credited “the 500, 600, 700 volunteers” who worked the phones and went door-to-door in support of his candidacy over the last month. “This isn’t about me,” he said Tuesday night. “It’s about the children and the schools in Wake County.”

Hill called on the nine-member board to unite after two years of political warfare over student assignments and the now lame-duck conservative majority’s attempt to adopt a “neighborhood schools” policyregardless if it resulted in high-poverty schools in some areas.

Hill reiterated his support for Superintendent Tony Tata, saying Tata’s done a great job since coming to Wake County 10 months ago. “I like Tony,” Hill said.

As for Tata’s controlled-choice plan for student assignments, Hill said he supports it “with tweaks” to assure that seats are available in high-performing schools for students from low-income neighborhoods where the magnet schools are located. Tata, he noted, has called for the same changes.

The four other district seats on the ballot in October went solidly to Democratic candidates, including the District 8 seat in Southwest Wake, which was held by Republican Board Chair Ron Margiotta. Susan Evans’ victory over Margiotta was unexpected given the Republican make-up of the district.

Thus, Hill’s victory will give Democrats a 5-4 majority, with the four Republican members (Debra Goldman, Deborah Prickett, Chris Malone and John Tedesco) all holdovers from the GOP’s 2009 election sweep.

Board members serve four-year terms.

Hill was the sitting board chair when the Republicans took over in 2009. As soon as the GOP members were seated, they replaced him in mid-term and put Margiotta in charge, a signal that they did not intend to continue the nonpartisan processes used by previous boards.

The GOP majority then scrapped the county’s longstanding policy of assigning students to schools with a goal of maintaining socioeconomic diversity in all schools and avoiding the creation of high-poverty schools.

The Republicans were bent on adopting a pure neighborhood schools approach until Goldman broke ranks, opening the door to the controlled-choice approach advocated by the business-led Wake Education Partnership and adopted by Tata when the Republicans hired him.

Under controlled-choice, students are assigned based on their parents’ choices, with students guaranteed that they won’t be reassigned from one school to another at the same grade level (K–5, 6–8, 9–12). For schools in high demand, students who live closest have priority, but students coming from neighborhoods where student achievement levels are low would be given equal or greater priority.

Student achievement levels, not income, would thus become the new diversity factor under the plan Tata proposed and Hill supported. Under Margiotta, the Republican-led board has blocked the adoption of any diversity factor, a position Losurdo, had she been elected, indicated she would support.

The new controlled-choice plan is scheduled to take effect in the 2012–13 school year.

This story was originally published on Bob Geary’s Citizen blog.