Wake County Schools

Wake school board meets as parents rally to keep Tata

Posted September 24, 2012
Updated September 25, 2012

— Dozens of parents, as well as members of the Wake County Republican Party, rallied outside the Wake County Public School System's central office Monday in support of Superintendent Tony Tata, who they believe could be removed from the post he's held for less than two years.

The Board of Education met for more than three hours in a private meeting Monday "to consider confidential personnel matters," according to the school system. An attempt to vote on the personnel item did not get the two-thirds vote it needed to be added to the agenda on short notice.

The board plans to resume the meeting at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Board members have declined to talk about specifics, citing privacy laws, but board member Deborah Prickett said prior to Monday's meeting that "there is a possibility" that others on the board could vote to let Tata go.

"I think some of the board members came in with a chip on their shoulder, and maybe they haven't been able to work through the process," Prickett said. "I think the board was actually beginning to work together. I was seeing a change."

Speaking in a brief public session following the closed meeting, she and others expressed opposition to the matter at hand.

"I don't like any of this," board member Chris Malone said. "I am disgusted with the whole thing."

WRAL News has learned that there has been scrutiny among some school board members over Tata's job performance.

Tata, whose contract expires Dec. 31, 2014, has not responded to requests for comment.

He was absent from the latter part of Monday's meeting.

Hired in December 2010 by a Republican-led school board that included Prickett, Malone, and current board members Debra Goldman and John Tedesco, Tata led the effort to implement the school system's new student assignment policy.

Under his leadership, the district has also seen academic gains and a number of new initiatives, including leadership academies, aimed at raising student achievement.

Tata Supporters Tata's future a likely topic Tuesday at Wake board meeting

Since his appointment, however, the board, which is supposed to be non-partisan, has changed politically and philosophically.

Power shifted to a Democratic majority last fall when two Democratic board members were re-elected and three others beat out Republican candidates.

The new majority has differing views when it comes to student assignment, and after less than a year of Tata's new plan in place, the board is now looking to change it.

Some of the most recent concerns by board members center on a flood of complaints that led Tata to apologize publicly to parents for school buses showing up late or not showing up at all when school began last month.

The district had taken dozens of buses out of service in an effort to cut costs but added about three dozen back in recent weeks after parents criticized the move.

A strained relationship with new school board members has also made headlines, including in February, when Tata questioned whether Democratic board members Susan Evans and Christine Kushner, who were elected last fall, supported a community group attacking his plan to change bus routes and bell schedules.

Parents who support the superintendent say they believe he has done an outstanding job and has been supportive of parents. Keep Tata Wake school board meets as parents rally to keep Tata

"I think most parents feel like we're finally in a place of stability, and we do not want to see change at this point," said Mike Cassetta, president of the Hilburn Academy PTA and one of about 30 supporters who showed up outside the school district's office.

Questions abound about how removing Tata could change the school system. In addition to the student assignment plan, the school board is looking to campaign to sell bonds next year for new schools. There's also issues dealing with accreditation, stemming from complaints about board leadership.

Tata supporters also speculate that a move to fire him is political.

Phil Matthews, a Republican and vice chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, posted on Facebook Saturday that "the new liberal school board members" are using "a lame excuse about buses to get rid of him."

"He is a good friend and is doing an outstanding job," Matthews posted. "I will take his firing personally.'"

Goldman said before Monday's meeting that she also believes the motive is political.

Republican board members wanted Monday's meeting to be open to the public, but the board voted 5-4 along party lines to keep it closed.

"I completely support Tony Tata. I have complete faith in Tony Tata. I think Tony Tata is a hero," Goldman said. "This is pure partisanship."

Democratic board members, including Evans, Kushner, board Chairman Kevin Hill and Jim Martin, refused to comment Monday afternoon.

Tata's appointment was not without controversy, as educators, parents, community groups and some school board members expressed concern about his lack of experience in education.

Prior to Wake schools, he served for about 18 months as the chief operating officer for District of Columbia Public Schools, where he oversaw purchasing, food service, technology and other support areas.

According to the terms of the contract, the board meets with Tata by Aug. 31 each year to finalize his annual performance goals. As part of his annual review, he gets an additional salary increase, performance-based compensation or both.

If the board were to decide to terminate Tata's contract, he has a right to have a hearing before the board.

If he's fired without cause, the school board would have to pay him one year of his current salary, which is about $256,000.


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  • freeadvice Sep 25, 2012

    Cahrmcclainlovesdogs2 - you are so right! excellent point

  • freeadvice Sep 25, 2012

    Why is it that school boards are made of up many people who are not even in education? Charter School boards are the same -

  • ConservativeVoter Sep 25, 2012

    Unfortunately our school board majority is composed of guilt ridden white liberals and socialists who are trying to undo the sins of the past including slavery through social re-engineering programs in our schools instead of focusing on how to maximize student achievement in our schools.

  • ConservativeVoter Sep 25, 2012

    The sad thing is that there is no evidence available to indicate that socio-economic diversity (race) based busing helps a child perform better in school.

    In fact there was a study that SAS did that showed the opposite.

    Dale Burns was encouraged to resign by the previous school board to resign for hiding the report from the school board because it didn't support his liberal and socialist agenda of social engineering in our schools.

  • Screw WrAl Sep 25, 2012

    "I think some of the board members came in with a chip on their shoulder,"

    You think?

    "I voted for the current school board majority, but I did not vote for them to do this...."

    Sure you did. You are one of the clueless voters who elected to harm your children's futures. Great job!

  • madntad Sep 25, 2012

    ! Give the man a chance!!! BOE here is a joke...its a power trip....and why do they think that have that much power. I SUPPORT OUR KIDS ! THEIR EDUCATION! AND MR. TATA!

  • leafan Sep 25, 2012

    I agree with mtnmama...well said.

    they can't just forget their politics. there is philosophical difference of opinion on what matters most - dems will always value social integration to be as (or maybe more...)important than academics. Repubs will always put academics, proximity to school, choice, first. Dems want to fix generations of racial issues on the backs of school kids. Repubs want kids to take opportunity and run with it. The differences are so wide - it all fails. Sad day for public school kids, staff, leadership in WCPSS if Tata is fired - he's done the best job at trying to bridge the ideologies IMO. Finding ways to put bits of both philosophy in place. Didn't quit like the last guy...

  • meldking Sep 25, 2012

    As a local businessman and a parent of two students that spend their entire elementary, middle, and high school careers in Wake County, I continue to be disappointed in the way the Wake County School Board is unable to show leadership and attend to the needs of the school children in Wake County. I’m tired of the board strictly acting on political agendas (both sides).

    The only person that I have seen leadership from is Tony Tata and now some of the board members are trying to run him out of town. Either way, I’m sure he will be actively looking to leave because of the lack of support. We still have an outstanding school system but one with major PR and perception issues thanks to the board.

    Perhaps board members should take a class on public relations and managing the perception of the decisions you make. Hiding behind closed doors as the board did yesterday doesn’t serve the interest of our children!

  • mlmccart1 Sep 25, 2012

    Wow! I am so glad I moved to Johnston County! We may have our differences but we don't have this drama! I have a child that was in Wake County Schools and thought they needed help 5yrs ago! Tata at least puts his neck on the line for the kids, not so with some of the rest of the people in charge around there! Good Luck!

  • mtnmama Sep 25, 2012

    The problem, in it's entirety, is that nobody wants to tackle the problem at it's origin. Busing only integrates low & high performing students to make the system look better as a whole. Smoke & mirrors don't help a kid succeed. Hire only the best teachers & pay them higher wages to go in & clean up the low performing schools...you know...TEACH the kids. Use the $ now used on busing all over Timbuktu. HELP THE STUDENTS, NOT THE PUBLIC IMAGE OF SCHOOLS.