by Bob Geary
This just in:
Wake County Board of Education Chairman Kevin Hill and Vice Chairman Keith Sutton will be available in the Board Room at 12:30 p.m. today to comment to the media.
The Board Room is located on the first floor of WCPSS Central Services, 5625 Dillard Drive, Cary.
I've been corresponding on Twitter with two friends this morning who are bemoaning the partisanship of the Wake County Board of Education in the aftermath of Tony Tata's dismissal. "We had five Republican a—holes in charge and now it's five Democrats," is the gist of what one said. (The other was more polite, but she made the same point.)
Everywhere in the press and online, the charge against the board is their partisanship.
My response? The five people who constitute the majority on the school board are, yes, Democrats by party registration. But they aren't partisans. Quite the opposite. And that's their problem.
In fact, for 10 months since their election their most serious failing has been their inability to explain themselves to the public — because of their political inexperience.
They fired Tata yesterday. They made no attempt to say why.
Partisans would've had a short, declarative statement for the world explaining why Tata needed to go. What they had was Kevin Hill, their chair, saying he couldn't say anything because it's a personnel matter, but he did express confidence in teachers and staff to carry on in a professional manner.
Meanwhile, the four Republicans — three of whom are running for other offices — blasted them from pillar to post with such digestible (and rehearsed) soundbites as John Tedesco's statement that he wouldn't trust them with his lunch money.
Now there's a partisan.
I would also chalk it up to the majority's political naiveté that they have not felt (understood?) the imperative of functioning as a team and reaching policy consensus among themselves. Instead, they looked to Tata and his staff to bring everyone at the board table together, including the four Republicans.
A tipoff as to why it didn't came when Tata, 30 minutes after the board meeting ended, read his farewell statement to the press. He listed his successes — his, and his staff's — and he included the fact that they'd put not one but two student assignment plans together, both of which advanced the goals of stability and proximity.
Only stability and proximity? Sounds like a neighborhood schools plan to me.
The assignment plans were supposed to advance the goals of stability, proximity and student achievement, the last of which was a proxy for the concept of diversity in schools — no failing schools, in other words.
Tata came to Raleigh espousing his belief in diversity, and citing the fact that in the Army, where he was a general, diversity is a source of strength. But maintaining diversity in the Wake schools is a tough job, and as Jim Martin noted at the school board meeting last week, it's a a job that's not getting done — diversity is slipping away from the school system.
I don't say Tata didn't believe in diversity. I would say he didn't know how to get it done.
Diversity isn't the only tough issue for the superintendent and school board; lack of money, lack of buildings, lack of buses, lack of teacher assistants and tutors all complicate their job of educating 150,000 kids with all their needs, issues, backgrounds and learning styles.
It ain't easy.
I'm not saying Tata needed to go. I'm not saying he didn't. I'm not on the board, I wasn't trying to work with him, I didn't experience him in the same way the board majority obviously did. As a general, I found Tata to be hard-working, a skilled politician, excellent at explaining himself and his maneuvers to the public ... up to a point. He also struck me as a little bull-headed where his busing plans were concerned, and — because of his educational inexperience — unaware of the many pitfalls in his and Michael Alves' choice plan for student assignment.
The choice plan fell apart so fast, Tata's head must've been spinning. And then he either fired Don Haydon or forced him to resign or made life so unpleasant for Haydon that he did resign (I've heard all three versions, none from Haydon — or Tata), but that had to be the final straw. Believe me, Don Haydon did not just up and retire, not with all the groundwork he was laying for a 2013 bond referendum. No way.
What I am saying is, if you're going to fire Tata, you needed to make the case for doing so, before and after the fact. Just springing it on us was bad, well, politics.
The dark side of politics is the self-promotion and self-dealing. It's ugly.
The good side — the point — of politics — is engaging the public in what are, finally, public policy decisions that people need to understand and support.
This school board majority has none of the dark side of politics in them.
Unfortunately, they don't have much of the good side either — not so far, anyway.