Raleigh, N.C. — A Wake County commissioner says he believes the politically divided school board has to rebuild the trust of both county leaders and the public if it wants to succeed in getting voters to pass a school construction bond.
"We know we need to build schools," Commissioner Joe Bryan said Wednesday. "Would (a bond) be successful in this type of environment? The comments we're getting is don't give this school board money, any money at all."
Division on the nominally nonpartisan board of the state's largest school system is nothing new, but a controversial move last week to fire Superintendent Tony Tata from his post after nearly two years of a four-year contract, has sparked outrage from community members who believe politics were a driving force behind the move.
The Democratic-controlled board has faced sharp criticism since Tata's dismissal from Republican board members, community leaders and parents for dismissing Tata and for what they see as a wasteful misuse of taxpayers' money to pay him more than $250,000 in severance and for what it will cost to hire a new superintendent.
"I think the board made a decision that includes a fiscal irresponsibility on spending money that did not need to be spent when you had a superior superintendent that had a great life experiences and was innovative and creative and brought our community together," Bryan said.
Paul Coble, who chairs the Board of Commissioners, has already tabled any possibility of discussing a bond with the school board until it can prove that it can come together on three outstanding initiatives that Tata had been spearheading, including the student assignment plan and at least a seven-year commitment to opening a technical high school south of downtown Raleigh.
"They're the ones that dug this hole," Bryan said of the school board members. "They're the ones who have got to dig themselves out of that hole and establish that trust. It needs to be at their board table on their ability to work together and show that to the community that they can work together."
The school system is the fastest-growing in the state, with 3,000 to 5,000 new students coming into the school system every year. One in three schools is overcrowded, and the school system estimates the need for about three new schools every year.
Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane says all Wake County leaders and residents are stakeholders in the success of the school system.
"Everyone really understands that the education of our students is fundamental to what makes us great," she said. "We have consistently been ranked as one of the best school systems in the country and that needs to be the basis of all our decisions."
School board members – both Democrats and Republicans – say they are committed to moving the school system forward.
Democratic members said Tuesday that removing Tata from the superintendent post had nothing to do with politics.
School board Chairman Kevin Hill cited concerns about student achievement, fiscal responsibility and trust under Tata's leadership and said the board was spending too much time "putting out fires" stemming most recently from the implementation of a student assignment plan and busing issues.