Wake County Schools

Tempers flare in first Wake school board meeting since Tata ouster

Posted October 2, 2012
Updated October 3, 2012

Wake County Public School System

— Tensions were high at the first Wake County Board of Education meeting since former Superintendent Tony Tata was fired last week, as Republican board members and parents unleashed angry criticisms of the Democratic board majority.

With next year's student assignment plan and a $1 billion bond to fund new school construction hanging in the balance, Chairman Kevin Hill opened Tuesday's meeting with a concession that the board "could have acted better" in how it handled the firing. Tata, just 20 months into a four-year contract, was terminated without cause and given more than $250,000 in severance pay under a separation agreement approved along party lines at last week's meeting. 

Hill gave a fuller and more specific justification for the board's decision, citing concerns about student achievement, fiscal responsibility and trust under Tata's leadership. Ultimately, Hill said the board was spending too much time "putting out fires" and not enough time focused on students and schools.

"The superintendent came to us with little experience and made many mistakes, most recently with the implementation or our current assignment plan," Hill said.

Fellow board members John Tedesco and Debra Goldman seized on his comments, calling them hypocritical and cowardly. 

"I'm a little disheartened to hear our chairman just comment on a couple items, in particular, concerns about using tax dollars wisely after you just flushed a quarter-million dollars of our children's money away," Tedesco said. "That money could have been used to serve our children."

Tempers flare in first Wake school board meeting since Tata ouster Tempers flare in first Wake school board meeting since Tata ouster

"I am shocked, absolutely shocked," said Goldman. "Mr. Tata was fired without cause – it says it twice in the termination contract – and Mr. Hill, your signature, I believe, appears on that contract as the board chair, so for you to sit here and make degrading comments about his ability to do the job" is "despicable." 

Board member Susan Evans, however, said that the decision to terminate Tata was no based on "petty grievances" and that she was "anguished" by the situation. But she said actions and attitudes out of the public's view caused her trust in Tata to erode.

"We were told insulting things in private conversations in an effort to bully us into stepping in line with the superintendent," she said, adding that staff members said Tata "ruled with an iron fist, showing little respect." 

In the first public comment session since speculation about Tata's job began early last week, parents expressed outrage at the board's actions.

"I am astonished by the hypocrisy on this board," said Kathleen Brennan. "All of you should consider tendering your own resignations."

Tiffany Birkner said the superintendent's ousting once again puts student assignment in flux.

"You all have put us in a panic," she said. "I feel like you sold us out ... How you can go to bed at night, I do not know."

Board members on both sides of the aisle pointed to outside influences that have created partisanship and division within the school board.

Board member Jim Martin said he was "effectively threatened" by county leaders who urged him to step in line with Tata or risk losing support for the school bond.

"We are where we are today because of the misperception that partnership is achieved by laying out a series of demands that others must subscribe to," Martin said. "Partnership requires coming to the table, informed by data, informed by one’s personal and professional perspective, in order to collaborate in finding solutions."

Tedesco said he was "floored" by Martin's comments.

"(It) reeks of hypocrisy for Dr. Martin to talk about partisanship or ideological political groups to threaten the board into action," he said. "You and other members of this board (before being elected) were locked arm-in-arm with those groups, threatening us for years." 

The contentious meeting came on the heels of Wake County Commissioner Paul Coble putting on hold upcoming meetings to discuss the school bond issue, writing in a letter to Hill that the board's recent actions raise "serious concerns about the direction, leadership and consistency of the Wake County Public School System."

Coble, a Republican, said the partnership between the school board and the county commissioners is "up in the air."

Tedesco said he understood county leaders' concerns, and pointed to Hill for failing to fulfill his promise of being a truly nonpartisan leader.

"While what you see up here is a failure of leadership, our schools are moving forward every day," he said. "Our teachers are still working hard, our principals are still working hard and our schools are doing wonderful things for our children, despite what you see up here."

273 Comments

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  • nimueowl Oct 4, 5:04 p.m.

    Tata was completely destructive, irrational, and much worse than useless. We are all better off without him.

  • Nancy Oct 3, 6:14 p.m.

    "but I like people who honor their commitments."

    That doesn't seem to fit with your stance on a lot of politicians or superintendents either then. I guess you can change your stance if you choose, however.

  • Nancy Oct 3, 6:13 p.m.

    "@Nancy Come on now lets be realistic. He was forced to resign or he would have been fired. I am pretty sure the current board asked Tata to resign and he refused, and then the fired him. Burns got severance, Tata gets paid for the rest of his contract. Burns new the board would fire him, Tata must of thought he was untouchable."

    Actually, if you took the time to look up the news articles and text of Burns resignation, you will clearly see it was his choice alone.

    Hill extended Tata's contract in Feb of this year. And Hill praised Tata all along, until very recently - in fact the board approved Tata's budget without amendments. Didn't seem to be any big issue.

  • westernwake1 Oct 3, 5:39 p.m.

    "@Nancy Come on now lets be realistic. He was forced to resign or he would have been fired. I am pretty sure the current board asked Tata to resign and he refused, and then the fired him. Burns got severance, Tata gets paid for the rest of his contract. Burns new the board would fire him, Tata must of thought he was untouchable."

    Del Burns was 'forced to resign or he would have been fired.' This is news to all of the media and citizens of North Carolina. What a wonderful re-write of history. The truth is that Del Burns resigned in a surprise move on his volition.

  • westernwake1 Oct 3, 4:40 p.m.

    https://www.change.org/petitions/wcpss-school-board-reinstate-superintendent-tony-tata

  • JohnnyRaleigh Oct 3, 4:28 p.m.

    Vote all of these incumbent board members out. When power goes to their heads we need a new board.

  • Mr. Middle of the Road Oct 3, 4:28 p.m.

    Nancy, the point is Mr. Tedesco is not man enough to pay off his own debt. I don't trust him with my money. If you are ok with him, thats fine, but I like people who honor their commitments.

  • westernwake1 Oct 3, 4:21 p.m.

    "westernwake1.....you and others who take issue with Tata's firing without having ALL the facts....support/opinions WITHOUT facts....all that does is create what we have had on the board for a number of years now (both Repubs & Dems are equally at fault)...." - tired2

    The facts we need can be found in a summary of Tata's accomplishments in Wake County during his 20 month tenure. The facts we need can be found in the support of many parents for the good job that Tata was doing. Tata was open, communicative, responsible, and thoughtful.

    If the Democratic board has facts that indicate that Tony Tata was fired for cause than they better outline them for the parents in Wake County. Nothing the Democratic board members have said in any of these recent meetings hold water. Trying to cite "confidentiality" or other nonsense does not hold water. The Democratic board members need to outline specific actions of Tony Tata that made him not qualified to continue to be employed.

  • form1 Oct 3, 4:14 p.m.

    @Nancy

    Come on now lets be realistic. He was forced to resign or he would have been fired. I am pretty sure the current board asked Tata to resign and he refused, and then the fired him. Burns got severance, Tata gets paid for the rest of his contract. Burns new the board would fire him, Tata must of thought he was untouchable.

  • Nancy Oct 3, 4:07 p.m.

    "And the bank loses money. And they charge the rest of customers. And the neighborhood takes a loss. You really don't understand how foreclosures hurt? "

    Does it hurt as much as what half a million will hurt just the people of Wake County with the firing/paying/hiring of a new superintendent?

    Not likely. And to be honest, banks have long made their money on those homes on interest rates while they were being paid for.

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