Cary, N.C. — Chaos, distrust and frustration characterize angry parents' concerns last year over Wake County Public School System busing problems at the start of the school year, according to nearly 3,500 pages of internal emails obtained by WRAL News through the Freedom of Information Act.
Hundreds of complaints from parents poured into the school district's offices in August and September after students riding buses either arrived late to school or were not dropped off at their assigned stops. In some cases, students were dropped off several hours after the school day ended.
The emails, between Aug. 1 and Sept. 25, detail the behind-the-scenes chaos school administrators, including then-Superintendent Tony Tata, faced. They scrambled to fix routes and hire drivers to operate buses that had previously been taken off the road in an effort to cut costs. Ultimately, about three dozen buses were put back into service.
In the emails, administrators detailed encounters with parents. One principal wrote that parents were calling "in tears" because their children were dropped off at some place other than their stops.
Area Superintendent Rose Anne Gonzalez expressed concerns to transportation staff in another email about how principals were dealing the problems.
"I am afraid it won't be much longer before the principals start to rebel," she wrote.
One parent in Cary wrote that she was "disgusted" by the debacle.
"The sheer ineptitude of your transportation office is in plain sight for all of Wake and NC [sic] to see," she wrote in an email to Tata.
"Mr. Tata, I wanted to congratulate you on allowing the school bus fiasco to become a bigger disaster on week two, especially after all the assurances that u [sic] were working diligently all holiday weekend to correct the situation," the parent also wrote.
The emails also show that Tata rode bus routes to understand the problems better and went to schools to see delays firsthand. He fired off emails on Sept. 13 to his staff: "Where is the list of problems routes I asked for?"
The next day, he wrote, "How are we fixing this problem?" "What happened here?" he asked on Sept. 15. "Fix it."
The emails also detail the clash between Democratic and Republican school board members. At one point, former member Debra Goldman questioned a decision to let Democrats lead an audit of transportation saying it looked "too partisan."
Growing distrust is spelled out the in the documents as board member Jim Martin questions why Tata's administration didn't give members access to reassignment maps.
"Very frustrating," Martin wrote, "when it appears as though staff are working to undermine the board."
Board members were also constantly replying to angry parents over buses, school assignments and Tata's pending firing, most of them opposed to his ouster.
Democratic board members who voted to fire Tata cited the busing and reassignment controversies as some of the reasons for his dismissal.
Former member Chris Malone, a Republican, however, cited politics. In one email, he compared Democratic board members to a "coiled rattlesnake waiting for political cover to strike."