Burns: 'Partisan political gamemanship' factor in resigning

Posted February 18, 2010
Updated February 19, 2010

— More than 30 years ago, Del Burns accepted his first job in the Wake County Public School System as a special-education teacher at Root Elementary School.

What he learned that year, he says, made him decide he wanted to be an educator. He worked his way up to the top, becoming the chief executive of the state's largest school system in 2006.

"I've learned, and I hope that I have contributed to the growth of our system and the work to improve education for all kids," Burns said Thursday. "It's demanding, and yes, it's vocal. That's a good thing. To be a part of that dynamic has been really exciting for me."

So, it came as a shock to many Tuesday afternoon when Burns, citing "personal and obligatory considerations," announced to the Wake County Board of Education his plans to resign June 30.

Educating students, he says, has become more about "partisan political gamesmanship" than what's best for children.

"This should be about the children. It should be nonpartisan. I've not experienced the discussion around political parties in a board election or in the work of the board the way I have in the last few months," Burns said.

The Wake County Republican Party last fall donated to the campaigns of four new board members who ran on a platform that included ending the district's diversity policy of busing students in favor of community-based schools.

"It concerns me that it appears – and I haven't seen things play out yet – as if in some cases political ideology is driving somewhat of the decisions that are being made," he said.

As it stands now, the decade-old policy allows no more than 40 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches at any school. Students are reassigned each year to maintain that level, as well as to fill new schools and relieve overcrowding.

Shifting away from the practice, Burns thinks, could be catastrophic.

"I think the potential is here for a change that will result in segregating rich schools and poor schools in the Wake County Public School System," he said.

"For me to implement those (changes) would be very difficult because I have very strongly held principles and beliefs and, in this case, that's not something I can do, to believe one thing and do another," he added.

School board members deny the influence of politics and say that Burns' concerns are, right now, unwarranted because the board has only recently started looking at the effects of changing the diversity policy.

"I'm perplexed," said Debra Goldman, who represents District 9 in western Wake County and is a member of the new board majority. "I do think it's premature."

District 2 board member John Tedesco also says the school system's current policies have failed children. For example, he says, graduation rates have fallen to record lows for five years in a row.

"We're abandoning more of our children. For too long, our current system has focused on socio-economic engineering," he said. "Our system is focused on building its own empire at the expense of our families and our kids. If it was about the kids, our graduation rates wouldn't be falling through the floor."

Since December, the board majority has also ended mandatory year-round school assignments and early-dismissal Wednesdays, which Burns says give teachers an opportunity to collaborate on improving student achievement.

The feedback has been "incredibly positive," Burns says.

"Our nearly 10,000 teachers work very hard every day for students, and they are focused on one thing – learning for all kids," he said. "It's a very difficult job to do even under the best of circumstances."

Although he disagrees with the board and its direction, Burns insists it is out of respect for both that he resigns – a decision he also insists is his alone.

"We have done many innovative things over the past 34 years," he said. "Change isn't something that concerns me. In this case, it concerns me that the direction is not one that I'm comfortable with, and as superintendent, I think the board deserves to have a superintendent aligned with its vision.

"This was a very hard decision for me to make, but I feel in my heart that it's the right decision for me."


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  • time4real Feb 19, 2010

    bye bye Del, take a few others with you and save us the time. they won't be far behind you. good riddance.

  • YoucanthandletheTRUTH Feb 19, 2010

    Of course politics is involved. Del Burns and the former board members were allowing their own liberal views get in the way of actually helping these kids learn. All they care about is making the numbers and rankings. They don't care if the students actually learn. In fact, I was told directly from his cohorts that if a student makes a 50 on our weekly tests, they should be considered proficient! Again, they just want these kids passed along and for our stats to look good. Who cares if they will be prepared for the future or not! This is why I have moved from that school system! I have a conscience and could not follow the policies coming down the pipe from Burns and his cronnies!

  • rargos Feb 19, 2010

    I guess decades of Democrats imposing their politically-based, ideological "diversity" policy, that wasn't partisan, right?

  • pkrbkr-4ever Feb 19, 2010

    I for one would like to see factual data on how much busing cost? Why was the SAS results hidden for so long? They have no bias one way or another. In one's mind you want it to work, because it feels good, but stats don't lie.
    Why would you discriminate against a child who's parents live within walking distance of a school, and force that child to the other side of the county? Isn't that reverse discrimination? If the inner city schools are so bad, let's fix them, hire competent leaders within the school. You can lead a horse to water, but that doesn't mean he'll drink. Times are changing to the way they should have been. The new board will get it right with time.

  • injameswetrust2003 Feb 18, 2010

    Some of the posters are missing the point of this whole process. This is a democracy, not a socialist state! It is not the job of the school system to promote economic diversity by forced busing. If people want to have nice schools, they should volunteer in and support their neighborhood schools, or move somewhere else.

  • blackdog Feb 18, 2010

    I personally want a doctor who has studied medicine to work on me. I presume you would prefer an educator to have studied education. But, it seems the new board has other ideas...

  • elcid liked Ike Feb 18, 2010

    Since the parents all seem to consider themselves experts on education, why not just hire one of them?

  • james27613 Feb 18, 2010

    One possible man for the job

  • injameswetrust2003 Feb 18, 2010

    "in some cases political ideology is driving somewhat of the decisions that are being made"

    Is this a new concept? Didn't political ideology drive the old board's decisions?

    This guy has had his run. It's time for some new blood in that office. While we're cleaning house let's get rid of some of those area superintendents who are *J*ust *M*aybe unfriendly and unsupportive of parents.

  • i walk alone Feb 18, 2010

    yep rebel belle nailed it ...respect him for respecting others opinions ...he should give meeker a class on this and i beleive economy shouldnt be a factor in teaching kids ......i went to school with the haves and havenots and from what i know the havenots are the majority of "good citizens " after 30 years ....dont have an answer and dont think i should have to pay school taxes since mine have "GRADUATED" not by there choice but mine...and they should pay taxes for theres.....and i dont owe anyone else's kids an education.....and if i wasnt married "wouldnt pay any taxes" until the politicians learned how to spend the tax money wisely .........promise