Wake County Schools

Ousting of Wake schools chief could jeopardize funding

Posted September 25, 2012
Updated September 26, 2012

— The Wake County Board of Education's party-line vote to fire the school district’s superintendent less than two years into his four-year contract could have negative financial implications for the growing school system.

Wake County Board of Commissioners Chair Paul Coble blasted the "very partisan" decision to oust Tony Tata, raising concerns about funding the planned construction of up to 24 new schools and continued acrimony over student assignment.

"Will the county commission vote to give $1 billion to a school board that has no leadership and, at this point, has no real plan?" he said Tuesday, adding that he expects the board to overhaul its student assignment plan now that Tata is gone. "How can we possibly decide where we're going to put schools, build new schools, when there's no effective reassignment plan and there's no real leadership."

Board member John Tedesco, who said he was "fundamentally and 100 percent opposed" to firing Tata, also pointed to possible financial repercussions from the decision prior to the board's vote to approve a separation agreement under which Tata receives more than $250,000.

"This agreement will exercise a quarter million dollars at a time when our teachers are buying their own supplies, classrooms are lacking textbooks, when we can't find bus drivers. We went to our county commissioners asking for more money," he said. "It is an epic failure of this board that we have come to this ... I wouldn't trust this board with my lunch money."

Wake County Commissioner Joe Bryan said commissioners were planning to partner with the school board on a bond proposal to fund the school system's expansion.

"It's going to be hard to partner," Bryan said. "You don't have a superintendent. You've got a 5-4 dysfunctional board. You don't even have an assignment plan, so you don't know where your schools need to be built, and then you're going to come and ask our community to make a big decision."

The decision to oust Tata came after days of speculation about what "personnel matters" would be discussed in a closed-door meeting Monday.

During that meeting, the board voted to terminate Tata's contract, prompting the board to begin ironing out the separation agreement, which Tata said he participated in “reluctantly.”

Wake school board Chair Kevin Hill Tata ouster could hurt partnership with Wake commissioners

"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."

People critical of the board's decision pointed to public statements by Chair Kevin Hill during his re-election bid that he believed Tata was doing a good job as superintendent.

"I'd give him an A-. I think he's coming along. I like Tony," Hill told WRAL's "On the Record" in November.

The board chair refused to comment on why his opinion of Tata's job performance changed, saying the reasons "get back into closed session and some other personnel issues."

Coble, a Republican, said that Tata continued to do a good job throughout his tenure.

"There is nobody that I've come across in public service who has done a better job, who has been as even-handed and fair in everything he's done," he said. 

Tedesco and fellow Republican board members were visibly shaken Tuesday when they railed against the Democratic majority in the moments leading up to the 5-4 vote to oust Tata.

"With this partisan decision, the board has now guaranteed that there will be far fewer great schools in Wake County," board member Debra Goldman said. "I grieve for our children, our teachers and our staff. There will certainly not be the security and stability that the citizens of Wake County want."

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Goldman added that she was "stunned and saddened" by the move.

Board member Chris Malone called the decision a "big mistake" with lasting negative effects.

"I think the timing of this, for whatever purpose, is a travesty – really, really stupid," he said.

But Democratic board members said the vote was not political.

"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," board member Jim Martin said. "They are based on facts. They are based on data. They are based on experience."

Board member Susan Evans said the decision was based on "a culmination of experience and feedback for the 10 months I've been on the board."

Tony Tata Tata out as Wake schools chief

"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," she said. "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."

Tata pointed to a list of accomplishments in the school system since he was hired in December 2010, including positive academic gains, an elevated accreditation status, the creation of leadership academies, raises and bonuses for teachers and staff, the development of two student assignment plans and better services for the district's 20,000 special education students. 

"I will profoundly miss the students, teachers, staff and principals, as well as the many hard-working business partners, volunteers and parents who make our school system so great," Tata said. "I say thank you for your support and loyalty to our core mission of raising academic achievement for all children.

"It has been my distinct honor and privilege to serve with you."


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  • wakeresident10 Sep 26, 2012

    I don't agree with the decision to fire Tata after such a short period of time and are also sick and tired of the partisan politics. Isn't it about time that this failed experiment of diversity across an entire county be scrapped? It's proven not to work. I have no idea how busing a student an hour away so they can sit in a diverse class helps them learn the basics of reading, math, and science. If this system was such a success than why isn't it replicated anywhere else? I understand that Charlotte and Atlanta trashed this failed social experiment previously. Let's face it, the district is too big to manage by one board and one superintendent. It's time to break it up and put the power of decision making closer to the families impacted. It's time to localize each issue instead of trying to fit a "one size fits all" approach to our educational needs. Where are the leaders on this issue and when are the rallies scheduled? It's time we start showing our displeasure in numbers.

  • MatureOne Sep 26, 2012

    Unfortunately, they bused the kids in the surrounding neighborhoods all over Wake County to make space for the affluent white kids from the suburbs - ConservativeVoter

    Those schools are so highly focused on certain academic courses that they aren’t really suited to the average student regardless of race/economic standing. The problem was that that keeping up with housing growth outweighed the needs of current schools. That helped to create the current need for economic/educational diversity. Once they realized they were part of the problem they still separated those kids by sending one group to magnets and the others to take their spot in their schools. I still agree with busing to a certain degree but not on the extreme levels that they were on. Most new subdivisions aren’t that far away from lower income areas so they can keep some of it local and not way across the county. If they can upgrade more local schools then you eliminate a lot of the problems.

  • jsok123 Sep 26, 2012

    Stop the insanity....

  • driverkid3 Sep 26, 2012

    grandmanp::::why the state is paying Keith Sutton $ 62,000 a year when a large part of his time is spent on Wake County school business. WRAL should do a FOIA request for his time sheets to see if he is using vacation time or unpaid leave when doing school board business.

    Do you REALLY think WRAL is going to do anything that will hurt a democrat?


  • WakeHammer Sep 26, 2012

    Let's be correct here. Burns didn't get fired, and he didn't "resign." He RETIRED. At the end of his employment, he began collecting a pension of over $150,000 a year. Most of us will never make that much as a regular salary. He's been double-dipping since then, earning nice money consulting for other school systems.

    General Tata was FIRED. He gets nothing from WCPSS beyond his one-year exit package.

  • kpquiller Sep 26, 2012

    Show your support to Tony Tata! There is a petition that is ready for signatures.

  • ConservativeVoter Sep 26, 2012

    Once again, Burns resigned. He wasn't fired.

    Burns resigned because he was caught hiding from the school board the SAS study which said socio-economic diversity (race) based busing actually hurt academic achievement of minority students.

    This went against Burns liberal and socialist agenda of diversity above all else including student academic achievement.

  • ConservativeVoter Sep 26, 2012

    The Democrats need to understand that it's the schools only job is to educate our students.

    It's not the schools job to right societies wrongs through social engineering including the failed socio-economic diversity (race) based busing program.

  • ConservativeVoter Sep 26, 2012

    The Democrats support Diversity above everything else including student achievement.

  • ConservativeVoter Sep 26, 2012

    ""Considering the fact that the Wake County board of education had managed to stay non-partisan until Margiota and Tedesco were elected in a fluke election it is funny to hear the Republicans now cry 'foul.' The previous school board did not even give Del Burns an opportunity to try to work with them; they fired him almost immediately. The current board tried to work with Tata but the partisanship that was so rampant under the previous board was still front and center. He was not qualified for the job; it is just unfortunate that he was not fired for cause, resulting in the county having to pay him a severance. You can thank the previous Republican majority for the now-partisan school""

    The school board has been partisan since at least 1996 when I moved to Raleigh.

    The partisan Democrats have controlled it most of the last twenty years or more other than the two years the Republicans recently controlled it. Then the Democrats got control back and fired TATA.