Cary, N.C. — In a vote along party lines, the Wake County Board of Education voted Tuesday afternoon to fire the school district's superintendent, paying him approximately $250,000 in severance pay.
Tony Tata said he reluctantly entered into separation negotiations with the school board after a majority voted to dismiss him Monday afternoon.
"I am proud of all that we have accomplished as a school system in the last 20 months," Tata said Tuesday after the board publicly finalized his termination. "We have so much more to do, and so much more that I wanted to do."
Four Republican board members who voted to hire Tata nearly two years ago said they were disgusted by the move and blamed politics and board members carrying a grudge for the dismissal.
"I am fundamentally and 100 percent opposed," said board member John Tedesco. "I think this is the wrong thing to do at the wrong time for the wrong reasons, and will send the wrong message across our entire district and have lasting implications."
He added that the decision was the result of an "epic failure" of the board and is not a reflection of Tata.
"This is a big mistake. This is a political mistake, and the results are going to be felt for a long time," board member Chris Malone said. "I fear it won't be positive."
But Democratic board members defended their decision, saying the move had nothing to do with politics.
"The decision we're making tonight is a heavy decision for everyone. This is not a personal decision. It is a personnel decision," Jim Martin said. "The vote I cast is not a partisan vote. I never have and never will cast a partisan vote. My votes are independent. They are mine. They are based on facts. They are based on data. They are based on experience."
"It is based on a culmination of experience and feedback for the 10 months I've been on the board," Susan Evans added. "I want the public to know this is not an easy decision for any of us to get to. We're not gloating. We're not happy about this. I would have liked for it to have been any other way that we could have all seen this as a long-term working situation."
Board Chairman Kevin Hill called Tuesday's vote "a sad day" for the school system and community.
"But nothing has changed about our commitment to students, and I dare say that every member at this table would agree with that," Hill said. "This is no happy day in Wake County, but I do believe our teachers and support staff will work as hard as they can."
Stephen Gainey, the district's assistant superintendent for human resources, will serve as interim superintendent for up to 60 days while the board seeks Tata's permanent replacement.
Gainey began his career with Wake County schools as a math teacher at Apex High School before becoming assistant principal and then principal at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh.
Tuesday's vote comes after days of speculation that Tata would be fired.
About three dozen parents and members of the Wake County Republican Party rallied outside the school system's central office in Cary Monday morning, and emails circulated Tuesday from community members, including former school board candidates, calling the board majority's move "thuggish" and reminding them that recently elected board members "campaigned that they would NOT get rid of Tata NOR would they get rid of the assignment plan."
"If you vote to fire Superintendent Tata, you will have permanently burned all bridges of cooperation with many Wake County families," according to the email sent to school board members and the media.
"If you choose to relinquish him of his duties, you will only bring more animocity [sic] and upheaval in our community. I implore you to move past your political ideology and understand that keeping Tata is the right thing to do, not for you, but for our KIDS and THEIR futures," the email continued.
Questions abound about how removing Tata might affect the school system.
In addition to the three-year student assignment plan that Tata implemented – the board is looking to revise it for the upcoming school year – the school board also wants to campaign to sell bonds next year for new schools. Some in the political realm have already pledged to block those efforts if Tata is fired.
There's also issues dealing with accreditation, stemming from complaints about board leadership.
Last week, the Wake County Taxpayer's Association filed a complaint with the accreditation group AdvancED about what it calls "continuous mismanagement" and a "lack of governance" by the Democratic board majority.