Tata, two Wake school board members spar over community group
Posted February 21, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County schools Superintendent Tony Tata has apologized to two school board members following an email exchange in which he accused them of supporting a community group that attacked his truthfulness last week.
The Great Schools in Wake Coalition charged last Friday that Tata was using a proposed shift in school schedules for next fall to hide the costs of the parental-choice student assignment plan that his staff is implementing.
In an email sent Saturday morning to members of the Wake County Board of Education and a few senior staffers at the Wake County Public School System, Tata said he wanted to know if board members Christine Kushner and Susan Evans knew of the group's allegations in advance.
"Given each of your professed deep involvement in and adherence to the principles of this group, I am concerned that you endorse their attacks on me and my staff (unless of course you state publicly that you do not endorse them)," Tata wrote.
"Truthfully, I am having a hard time understanding your public endorsement of and involvement in this group that so fervently attacks me and my staff while each of you claims to want to have a professional relationship with us," he continued. "Attacks on my character such as those yesterday, which each of you implicitly endorse through your association and support of GSIW, undermine our ability to move forward as an effective governance team, in my view."
Evans and Kushner both fired back later Saturday, saying they haven't been involved with Great Schools in Wake since they were elected to the school board last fall. They took offense to his accusations and said he should have discussed the matter with them privately instead of in a mass email.
"The GSIW folks understand that my role as a school board member is separate and different from their role as a community activist group and we are all respecting those boundaries. I am disappointed that you would assume otherwise," Evans wrote.
"I am even more disappointed that you would choose to send such an accusatory public group email, prior to discussing your concerns with me privately," she continued. "I find this unacceptable behavior for a Superintendent to exhibit towards a Board Member and counterproductive to a respectful working relationship."
"With all of the public records requests for Board emails, I must assume you know your broadside attack on me and other Board member is, and that you intended it to be, a public record. I believe this raises a serious question of judgment," Kushner wrote.
"I have been completely respectful and open with you, even when you have had an 'aggressive' (your word) conversation with me," she continued. "This is not an acceptable way for a superintendent to treat a Board member."
Tata responded Sunday evening with a conciliatory message, saying he sought some "clarity" regarding their current relationship with Great Schools in Wake.
"I deeply apologize if you feel that I was disrespectful. While straight forward, I intended no disrespect and I certainly made no accusations or allegations of conspiracy," he wrote.
"I am glad to hear that neither of you endorse their position on this blatantly false press release. Of course, I would have preferred each of you made that comment to the media, as my primary concern was an implicit endorsement, which you have clarified for me today," he continued.
Under the new assignment plan, parents can choose from at least five elementary, two middle and two high schools, based on their address. The schools are a combination of traditional-calendar, year-round calendar, magnet and other specialty options.
The plan was created after the board decided to stop using busing to balance socio-economic diversity across schools and place more emphasis on allowing students to attend schools closer to their homes.
Great Schools in Wake wants the school district to publicly disclose the financial analysis used in drafting the plan. Chairwoman Yevonne Brannon alleged that changes to school schedules, which Tata has said could save up to $10 million in transportation costs, have been proposed to disguise the assignment plan's costs.
Some parents have balked at the schedule changes, noting that they would affect their ability to drop children off in the morning before work, volunteer at school and children's after-school schedules.
If the school board approves the schedule changes, Tata said parents would be allowed to switch their school choices so the hours of their selected schools meet their needs.