Cary, N.C. — The Wake County Board of Education on Tuesday elected Keith Sutton as its new chairman amid ongoing discussions about a temporary student assignment plan for next school year.
Christine Kushner was elected vice chairwoman, and the board also voted to keep Tharrington Smith in Raleigh as its attorney.
Sutton, who won with a 5-4 majority over Deborah Prickett, replaces Kevin Hill, who decided not to run for another one-year term.
In addition to ironing out an assignment plan, the board is looking forward to discussions about a bond referendum to pay for 25 schools over the next 10 years, which will require the approval of the Wake County Board of Commissioners.
Joe Bryan, who was elected as Board of Commissioners chairman on Monday, said he hopes to have the bond on next fall’s ballot but has some questions for the school board.
"Is the assignment plan settled? What is it?" he said Monday. "What is your schedule for getting a new superintendent?"
Former Board of Commissioners Chairman Paul Coble said bond talks were off the table after the school board scrapped its current “controlled-choice” student assignment plan and fired Superintendent Tony Tata earlier this year.
School board member Debra Goldman said Monday that she also has reservations about moving forward with the bond issue after recent actions by the board majority. Goldman, along with three other Republican-backed board members, voted against revising the student assignment plan and ousting Tata.
"The bottom line is: If the people of Wake County don't have faith in the fiscal responsibility of the school board, there is no way they are going to support a bond," Goldman said. “(This) board voted on a narrow 5-4 margin to fire our superintendent without cause and cost the taxpayers almost $300,000.”
Sutton, however, is optimistic.
"As long as there are willing bodies and willing leadership, we can make it happen," he said Tuesday.
Disagreement and division have often marked board interactions – most recently at a public hearing last week on the student assignment proposal. Prickett and fellow board member Susan Evans clashed over whether it was appropriate to discuss the board's decision to change the assignment plan less than a year after it was implemented. Prickett opposed the change, while Evans supported it.
At the hearing, Prickett asked parents to show their support for the current plan by raising their hands. Evans then took the microphone from her.
At Tuesday's board meeting, Prickett said Evans should resign.
"Jerking a portable microphone from my hand while leaning into my personal space falls in the confines of assault," she said.
In October, Bryan said the school board needs to work together and rebuild trust if it wants to move forward.
The third and final public hearing on the staff's student assignment proposal for 2013-14 will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Rolesville Middle School. In response to parents' concerns at the first two hearings, the school board has tweaked some aspects of the plan.