Raleigh, N.C. — School board members and the public alike were shocked Tuesday when Wake County Public School Superintendent Del Burns announced he will resign from his post effective June 30.
"I have always considered myself fortunate to be part of the Wake County Public School System," he said during the school board's regularly scheduled meeting.
"Based upon personal and obligatory considerations, it is clear to me that I cannot in good conscience continue to serve as superintendent," he continued. "Therefore, out of respect for the board, out of respect for its directions and its decisions, I provide to the chair written notice that, effective June 30, 2010, I resign my position."
Board members gasped upon hearing the announcement, and board Chairman Ron Margiotta called for a brief recess.
Margiotta said he will try to convince Burns to change his mind but hopes the board's recent changes and decisions were not the reason for the decision.
"I would hope not. I think we have been working well together," Margiotta said. "I thought the relationship was a good one."
Burns declined to comment any further about his decision, but school board member Dr. Anne McLaurin said that Burns could not go along with the new direction of the board.
"It is a terrible loss for our county. It's a terrible loss for our school system. It is a terrible loss for me," she said. "He was unhappy with the direction we were taking, that the board was taking, and it was time for him to resign."
In recent months, the school board's new majority has reversed several school system policies, including one that makes year-round school calendars mandatory for new schools.
The board majority is also in favor of neighborhood schools and ending the school system's decade-old diversity policy, in which students are assigned to schools to help achieve socio-economic diversity among student populations.
Burns, who previously served as Wake schools' deputy superintendent, took over for Bill McNeal in July 2006, becoming the system's seventh superintendent.
He began his career with the Wake County school system in 1976 as a special education teacher at Root Elementary School and worked as a principal at Washington Elementary School and East Wake High School.
In 1999, he was named the school system's Principal of the Year while he was at Millbrook High School. In April 2000, Burns was named associate superintendent and was promoted to deputy superintendent in July 2006.
"In each role, I have worked to the best of my ability for all children, supporting a strong school system, not just a system of schools," Burns said Tuesday.
Burns' announcement comes on the heels of Chuck Dulaney's retirement. Assistant superintentendent for growth and planning, Dulaney announced last year that he would retire effective March 1.
Resignation draws responses
Parents and Wake County residents at Tuesday's board meeting praised Burns for his work over the past three years, as did school board members.
"We are going to have to look at this and see where we go from here," school board member Chris Malone, one of the members of the new majority, said. "Del Burns has done a good job and has been a good public servant for the county."
Parents groups, like Wake Cares, were much more pointed in their responses.
"Since the vision and philosophies are so different between Dr. Burns and the new school board, everyone's best interest is served by his resignation," Wake Cares spokeswoman Dawn Graff said in a statement.
Dallas Woodhouse, director of Americans for Prosperity in North Carolina, called on a nationwide search for a new superintendent that focuses on candidates in favor of the new board's agenda.
"It is time for a new era in leadership in Wake County, one that matches the voters' desire for neighborhood schools and breaks from the discredited social engineering policies of the past," Woodhouse said.
Ann Denlinger, president of Wake Education Partnership and former superintendent of Durham Public Schools, called Burns' resignation "very unfortunate and unsettling" for the school system, saying he had hoped to work on the necessary changes proposed by the new board.
But, she added, she isn't surprised by his decision and believes politics have been at play since the new board members were elected.
"There's a reason school board elections are nonpartisan," she said. "It should not be about a political party. It should be about qualities, world-class schools for all children. And I think if we listened for the last few months, through all the conversations, how many times have the students and their education been the center of the discussion?"
Denlinger said she doubts any superintendent can function in that environment, and expects some of Burns' staff members to also leave the school system.