RALEIGH — Wake County school board member John Tedesco, who made national headlines for his outspoken challenges to busing for socioeconomic diversity and other long-held practices, will not run for re-election this fall.
Tedesco was part of a group of Republican candidates who swept into office in 2009 on the concerns of suburban parents frustrated about student reassignment, many of whom felt that previous boards put too much focus on Raleigh and the magnet schools. He emerged as the main spokesman for the new board majority, taking both the praise and the barbs for the changes made.
But on Wednesday, Tedesco, 38, said in a statement that he needs to focus on his family and work during the next few years, while noting achievements of his term.
“Today we are a stronger system and our schools are better than they were in 2009, even if the public image of our board is not,” Tedesco says in the statement, portions of which appeared in a letter to the editor Thursday in the News & Observer.
Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, disagreed with Tedesco on assignment. But Brannon said that Tedesco’s heart was in the right place.
“He came on to the board with a very political agenda,” she said. “But when he got down to business, I saw him mature as a school board member. I truly saw him trying to deal with the concerns of children who are struggling academically.”
Tedesco, whose term expires in November, has said he will be an ambassador for the $810 million school construction bond referendum on the Oct. 8 ballot.
“We have many facilities that house thousands of our children each day that have worn past their life cycles,” he said.
Tedesco, who moved from New Jersey in 2006, says he decided to challenge the “status quo” when he ran in 2009 to represent Garner and Fuquay-Varina.
Making waves nationally
Tedesco appeared in numerous national broadcasts and newspaper outlets, as well as tea party events, to explain decisions such as abandoning the policy of busing for diversity. The extra attention apparently didn’t help Tedesco last year, when he lost in the general election for state superintendent of public instruction.
Tedesco was a hero to those who said Wake’s practice of trying to limit the percentages of low-income students at schools wasn’t meeting their academic needs. But critics said he was advocating policies that would lead to segregation and the creation of high-poverty schools.
Cable television satirist Stephen Colbert lampooned Tedesco in 2011 for his support of neighborhood schools.
Tedesco was the architect of a plan to divide the county into 16 assignment zones that was nixed in 2010 when then-board member Debra Goldman broke with the Republican majority. He later apologized for calling Goldman a “prom queen” at a board meeting.
Tedesco later backed a controlled-choice plan, an approach since dropped by the new Democratic board majority. He says that more students are going to schools closer to home.
“Many thought it was unreasonable to expect a high quality education for all children, to think that a child’s demography does not define their academic ability, or to give families a choice in where their children went to school,” Tedesco says. “I would not be worth my salt if I did not say that I could have done a few things differently after four years of hindsight. But our focus was right and I remain committed to these core beliefs.”
Tedesco was also a strong proponent of efforts that increased access for minority students to advanced classes, created the single-sex leadership academies and expanded academic programs outside the magnets.
Brannon said Tedesco’s best work was when he chaired a school board committee that looked at how to help disadvantaged students.
Tedesco found common ground with Democratic board members on issues such as changing student discipline policies that have reduced how often and how long students are suspended from school.
But since 2011, Tedesco has fought losing battles with Democrats on decisions such as firing Superintendent Tony Tata and replacing him with Jim Merrill. He also complained about the new majority’s restoration of goals limiting schools’ concentrations of low-income and low-performing students.
Of the four school board seats on the ballot, Tedesco is the only incumbent who will not run this year.
Monika Johnson-Hostler, 38, a Raleigh activist for sexual assault victims, is the only person who has filed for Tedesco’s seat.