Conservative opposition comes alive at Wake school board | News

Conservative opposition comes alive at Wake school board



As Democratic school board members might have guessed, community activists, who were once the voice for neighborhood schools, are in an uproar over the firing of Superintendent Tony Tata.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, members of the Democratic majority elaborated little on their reasons for firing Tata, Republicans pounded them for it, and public commenters joined in for about an hour and a half.

Many of the 15 people who spoke fiercely against Tata’s firing have been active in board politics for several years and are former neighborhood school advocates.

It's a sign that the community division, which led to 19 arrests in the summer of 2010 and national media coverage, may be returning.

Tata supporters cheering on public commenters at the school board meeting. - PHOTO BY WILL HUNTSBERRY
  • Photo by Will Huntsberry
  • Tata supporters cheering on public commenters at the school board meeting.

Jennifer Mansfield is a founding member of Wake Schools Community Alliance, a group that was instrumental in catapulting Republicans to power on the school board in 2009.

“I have no trust in this board,” she said. “It’s not just the firing of Superintendent Tata. I believe there was never any commitment to making the choice plan work.”

The Democratic majority scraped the controlled-choice plan in June after trends emerged that showed schools becoming more economically stratified. A new plan is in the works and some Democrats have said they won’t support it, unless it reverses the drift towards economic segregation.

Getting that new plan passed is likely to be an even steeper uphill slog, now that conservatives have more ammunition.

Several who addressed the crowd were not familiar faces in the student assignment debate, including 2009 Teacher of the Year Rene Herrick.

“I am a registered Democrat and voted for you, Ms. [Susan] Evans,” she said. “In my opinion and in that of many others that I represent, Mr. Tata was our hero. He brought our district back from being the subject of ridicule and possibly losing our accreditation.”

No word from the Wake NCAE yet on whether its members agree.

While many have viewed Tata as a stabilizing force, Democratic board member Christine Kushner told the crowd, “The majority of the board could no longer trust the actions and consistency of the Superintendent. In my ten months on the board, I did not view him as a neutralizing force.”

Tata let his tongue off the leash last February, accusing Kushner and Evans of ethical violations and saying that the liberal group Great Schools in Wake had a “stranglehold” on them. He later apologized.

Evans offered more insight into Tata’s firing. “On more than one occasion the Superintendent or a staff member he personally directed purposefully acted in opposition to the directions of this board.”

She also cited “a culture of fear” among staff members and distrust between Tata and the board.

“The public should know that Mr. Tata was made aware of these perceived deficiencies during his annual performance evaluation,” Evans continued. “Instead of trying to rectify any of these things, he continued to commit offenses.”

Rather than settling the GOP board members or public commenters, the broad-brush complaints of the majority were fuel to the fire.

A red-faced John Tedesco jabbed his finger in the air at chair Kevin Hill saying, “I find it tactless and cowardly, Kevin, for you to say these things now.”

The board majority also now finds itself embroiled in a battle with the GOP-led county commission. In a letter last Friday, commissioner Paul Coble cancelled upcoming meetings with the school board that would have begun to the lay the groundwork for a new school construction bond.

Coble says he wants to see the board resolve several key issues, including student assignment, before the meetings are rescheduled.

Some had hoped to get the bond on the ballot by next spring, since Wake’s last construction bond expired in 2009.

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