Former Wake County school board member Ron Margiotta, who led the board during a controversial push for neighborhood schools, has died.
Margiotta, 84, passed away Tuesday in Alexandria, Virginia, according to his family. Margiotta served on the Wake school board from 2003 to 2011, including serving as chairman from 2009 to 2011, when a conservative majority ended the district's student assignment diversity policy.
"He was a passionate advocate for our community and for the kids and families in our community," former school board member John Tedesco said in an interview Friday.
Voice for neighborhood schools
Margiotta previously ran a window treatment installation business in New Jersey, where he served on a local school board for nine years. Upon retirement, he moved to Apex in southwest Wake to be near his daughter and her family.
Margiotta was elected to the school board in 2003 and initially was the lone voice for neighborhood schools. In 2009, Republican-backed candidates swept the four seats on the ballot to create a 5-4 majority, with Margiotta serving as chairman of North Carolina's largest school district.
"He was the voice in the wilderness when we came," said Tedesco, who was among the board members elected in 2009. "He kept building a rallying cry on the issue and ultimately we joined him making that part of the agenda."
Protests at board meetings
Margiotta's coalition dropped a policy that sought to balance income levels of families with students at schools. The decision sparked protests, arrests, a federal civil rights investigation, a review of the accreditation of Wake's high schools, and national criticism from people such as comedian Stephen Colbert.
The board took other controversial actions such as hiring retired Army Gen. Tony Tata to be the new superintendent after Del Burns resigned.
"It certainly wasn't easy, but I can't say I would look back and do anything differently," Margiotta said in a 2011 article before leaving office.
The school board protests led by the state NAACP served as a forerunner for the Moral Monday protests that would be held outside the General Assembly in Raleigh.
In 2011, five Democratic-backed candidates swept the ballot to regain the board majority and oust Margiotta from office. But Tedesco points to the lasting impact of the Margiotta-led board in how succeeding boards are reassigning fewer students and focused more on providing stability for families.
Future boards restored diversity as a component in the student assignment policy. But fewer students are bused for diversity now as it is weighed against priorities such as stability and proximity.
"It was definitely a tumultuous time but one that proved to be valuable when you're going against the status quo and trying to bring about change that's important to have stability for our families," Tedesco said.
The family is planning a Celebration of Life in Woodbridge, Virginia in March. The family asked people, in lieu of sending flowers, to donate to a charity of their choice.