After Burns, should Wake schools look nationwide?

Posted March 10, 2010

— Del Burns turned over his district-issued identification badge and cell phone Wednesday, effectively ending a 33-year career in the Wake County Public School System.

The Board of Education placed the school superintendent, who's resigning June 30, on administrative leave Tuesday evening, following comments he made last month in which he accused some board members of "political partisan gamesmanship" when it comes to educating students.

Wake school board looks to next superintendent Wake school board looks to next superintendent

Now, school district leaders must find a successor to fill Burns' seat – Donna Hargens, the system's chief academic officer, has temporarily taken over – as the state's largest school system faces a number of challenges.

Among them are a budget gap of about $20 million, potential layoffs, how to handle growth and redefining the way the district assigns students to schools after more than a decade of busing for socio-economic balance.

"There's a lot of work to be done," board Vice Chairwoman Debra Goldman said Wednesday of the search for Burns' replacement. "I, for one, am looking forward to getting that process going."

Goldman and several other school board members – many of whom have supported changing school system policies like student busing in favor of community-based schools – have indicated a desire to conduct a nationwide search.

Other members, however, say they are not opposed to a nationwide search but believe there are qualified applicants locally.

"Personally, I'd like to see us move in that direction," board member Keith Sutton said Wednesday. "I think we have qualified candidates here."

Burns was local, and so was his predecessor, Bill McNeal, who retired in 2006.

Great Schools in Wake Coalition, a group of organizations, business leaders, parents and community members working for educational excellence in the Wake County school system, expressed disappointment about Burns’ departure.

The group says, however, that his termination must not divert attention from the challenges facing the school system.

"Long term, the board needs to find someone already familiar with the complexities of Wake County's public school system," said Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of Great Schools in Wake Coalition. "Our system needs strong leadership and solid educational experience. The current chaos and instability for our families, teachers and staff is horrendous."

Other groups, like the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, have called on a nationwide search that focuses on candidates in favor of the board's new 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," director Dallas Woodhouse said last month following Burns' resignation announcement.


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  • rc4nc Mar 12, 2010

    33 years in Wake County Public Schools, seems to me that's the source of the problem here. What WCPSS needs is someone who knows something about neighborhood schools. They certainly won't find it in the current system. I read a long and misguided letter complaining about neighborhood schools written by someone representing a womens organization in the N and O. The letter was written from a position of arrogance, for voters to have to plow under the diversity/racial/economic social engineering policy, means it long overstayed it's welcome. I applaud the voters for electing a board that aims to keep it's promises. Would that all politicians would do the same.

  • SS67 Mar 12, 2010

    "Hopefully this time they don't find someone who is as narrow minded and thinks life is all about diversity."
    Funny, I was thinking the same thing about the new school board members.

  • SS67 Mar 12, 2010

    That's right, get someone in there for more privatization, vouchers for private schools, break up the district. What's next, stop teaching evolution? (wait for it...)
    Of all that needs fixing, YR or traditional and busing should be last on the agenda. Amateurs at work.

  • Remy Mar 11, 2010

    "So did I get all this, right? Seems to me just another fiscally liberal decision by this school board which cares more about political gain than the education of the students."

    You got it exactly right! The board says just do want the 5 members want, opinions of people with backgrounds in education does not matter, spend all you can, who cares if we run out of money?

  • Remy Mar 11, 2010

    They are ging to have to look outside NC. No one wants to go near the fiasco this board has created.

  • BlahBlahBlahBlahBlah Mar 11, 2010

    This is...without a doubt...a selfish act for POLITICAL GAIN...via the article that I and others just read..WAKE COUNTY SCHOOLS WERE THE BEST IN NC......GOOD LUCK MR BURNS as I know..if you want a job...many many places would hire you and are needed ....These people that obviously want you out...will maybe one day acquire enough wisdom to see their faulty decision making...You, Mr Burns are a dignified and brilliant be it...Be happy..go now where you are much needed...

  • mindofreason Mar 11, 2010

    So you don't want a superintendent, you want a tyrannic board?
    Dr. Anne McLaurin may be Mr. Meeker's wife, and as much as I don't like her, it is not even close to a conflict of interest, since the City and WCPSS have no financial ties, and do not make any kind of decisions for one another. Get your facts straight, then come back! Good thing all you people parading around under the fake term of "fiscal responsibility" are truly fiscal liberals who spend, spend and spend some more, all just to get what you want, not make the education better for the kids...

  • injameswetrust2003 Mar 11, 2010

    "Seems like we had one of the best, so I guess the board will be looking for a puppet, a yes-man, one who cannot think for himself, etc." - grandmaeva

    Let's clarify the job of the superintendent: To execute the school board's wishes. If Ms. Hargens can do this effectively and not criticize her bosses like Dr. Burns did, then she certainly is the best person for the job. I was under the impression that she was a Del Burns clone and would not want to be the architect of the new assignment policy.

    I think a nationwide search is a good idea, and I think the board should 'clean house.' I also think Dr. Anne Meeker should resign since she is married to the multiple-term Raleigh mayor.

  • mindofreason Mar 11, 2010

    time4real, how did I not get that right? Please tell me, because I got it exactly right in my view of the situation...

  • time4real Mar 11, 2010

    "Anyone would have to be an idiot to sign on after the way this new board majority has acted"

    so, are you available?