Blog: Wake board gives final blessing to changes in superintendent qualifications

After some confusion, the Wake County school board decided it had given second and final approval to a policy that drops education experience as a requirement for the next school superintendent.

Posted Updated

RALEIGH, N.C. — The Wake County school board met Tuesday in what seemingly will be its last regularly scheduled semi-monthly meeting.

In addition, a second vote for another policy change abolishes the board's standing committees – Policy, Student Achievement, Facilities, Finance and Human Resources. The board's monthly Committee of the Whole meeting would handle those areas, with a board member acting as liaison for each topic.

When he proposed the changes last month, Chairman Ron Margiotta argued that most issues raised in committees come to the board work sessions anyway, and the current system is inefficient.

The board also voted on a final 2010-11 budget after some details were settled in an earlier work session.

8:00 p.m. -- The board gave a second approval, it thought, to a policy that changes the qualifications for the superintendent of education, including dropping education requirements.

Members voted 7-1 for the second reading, but member Carolyn Morrison then raised changes she wanted to make. Some members wondered how they could amend a policy they had just voted to approve.

Member Debra Goldman said she had asked for a vote on a second reading, but Attorney Ann Majestic told Goldman that the board had voted only on changes Goldman proposed to language approved July 20.

The board then voted 5-4 to reject Morrison's changes, and the earlier vote was left to stand as the board adjourned.

7:30 p.m. -- Staff asked to use $3.1 million saved in school construction in recent years to begin design work for four schools that might be built by 2013 and 2014.

Don Haydon, facilities chief for the school system, said that getting started on design later this year would allow the projects to move ahead more quickly. A decision about actually building is a year away, he said.

Haydon had come to the board asking for permission to move $2.4 million for work on three schools, but member Chris Malone, chair of the now-abolished Facilities Committee, added another site and $700,000 in making a motion for the board to vote.

He said he had a conversation with Haydon about the fourth site.

Member Debra Goldman questioned the move.

"On the fly, because you had a private conversation," a school has been added? she said to Haydon.

Haydon had told the board that the system expects 17,000 to 20,000 more students by 2013.

Member John Tedesco said he was worried because none of the four sites are in Southeast Raleigh, where projections show schools will be at 110 percent of capacity in the next few years.

Tedesco chairs the Student Assignment Committee and a task force on economically disadvantaged students

Malone's motion went down 5-3, with Malone, Keith Sutton and Kevin Hill the only supporters.

The board then voted 6-2 for the original three-school proposal.

7:10 p.m. -- After votes to reduce the frequency of school board meetings and abolish standing board committees, Chairman Ron Margiotta made a statement.

“Over the next few months, we’re going to try this new schedule,” Margiotta said. The board, he added, is “rethinking how we do business," but the changes approved Tuesday are "a work in progress.”

The changes should, Margiotta said, make it easier for members to attend meetings. He asked former committee chairs “to think about your areas” and told all members, “Let me know if you have items that need to be on the agenda for the next work session.”

Margiotta also said he was thinking of possible later meeting times to increase public opportunity to attend them and holding meetings in locations around the county.

7:00 p.m. -- In a move to reduce time demands on board members, the school board voted 5-3 to abolish its five standing committees and moving their work to the board's work sessions.

Chairman Ron Margiotta had said in proposing the change last month that most matters went through committees and came to the whole board anyway.

The vote abolished the policy under which Policy, Finance, Human Resources, Student Achievement and Facilities operated.

Committees with specific, limited tasks, such as Student Assignment, will continue.

Members of the board's majority and minority factions bickered about whether members could easily get matters before the board.

6:50 p.m. -- The Wake County school board voted 5-4 to change its policies to meet once a month, rather than twice, to vote on matters. There would be at least one work session to discuss issues.

Chairman Ron Margiotta proposed the change last month, and it was approved then in the first of two votes. Margiotta had wanted a temporary change as an experiment, but he could not get the two-thirds vote needed to suspend a policy.

Member Keith Sutton asked for an amendment that would add time to the public comment session of meetings. Critics, including some public speakers earlier Tuesday, attacked the board for reducing public comment time by meeting less often.

The board has allotted 30 minutes during its meetings for public comment, then let any remaining people speak at the end.

Member Carolyn Morrison said she had found precedents for school boards having public comment during work sessions, and she asked for that to be included.

Member Anne McLaurin backed Morrison's idea, but members Chris Malone and Deborah Prickett disagreed.

"I don't understand the negativity or the tone that I'm hearing from other board members," Prickett said.

"I'd be willing to make a commitment that we return" to the question in three months and discuss whether the change seemed to be working.

Attorney Ann Majestic said the board could pass a motion requiring that review. Sutton had asked to amend the policy to make it temporary.

6:30 p.m. -- The board voted unanimously to change its suspension policy to make long-term suspensions be between 10 and 180 school days instead of the remainder of any school year.

The change, assistant superintendent Marvin Connolly told the board, matches the district's policy to state law, which is more lenient than the district's previous policy.

Member John Tedesco made the motion to approve the change, saying that long suspension puts youths on the street and subject to gang influence.

6:20 p.m. -- The board unanimously approved the district's program for gifted and talented students. It then adopted a revised policy on promotion to match a state requirement for students who score Level II on end of grade and end of course tests to retake them.
6:05 p.m. -- The board voted 7-1 to adopt a final 2010-11 budget. Members indicated that the total would be the same as the interim budget adopted in the spring -- $1.2 billion in operating expenses and $200 million in capital spending.

Member John Tedesco commended fiscal chief David Neter and other administrators for working "to make sure we kept our dollars in the classroom this year."

Members Keith Sutton and Anne McLaurin said they regretted having to adopt the budget, but that tough fiscal times left the board no choice.

Member Kevin Hill said he feared classroom quality would be affected regardless of efforts to keep reductions in the administrative part of the district.

5:55 p.m. -- Among items passed on the board's no-discussion "consent agenda" was a pay freeze because of state budget cuts.

"Certified and non-certified employees are not provided any salary increases for the 2010-11 school year," the board item stated. "These salary schedules have been prepared in a manner consistent with legislation passed in the 2010 session of the North Carolina General Assembly."

5:20 p.m. -- The board voted 8-0 to cut six jobs in the school system's Transportation Department because of a cut in state funding.

David Neter, the chief financial officer, told the board that a $1.2 million reduction for the Wake schools in the state budget had forced the move. He said the layoffs would save the system about $363,000. Administrators said the rest of the cuts were not personnel-related.

Transportation staff had told the board before that the changes will affect students.

5:15 p.m. -- The board voted unanimously to name the Sanderson High School athletic field after Robert Catapano. Catapano began teaching at the school in 1977 and retired in 2004, though he returned to the school afterward as a half-time math teacher and athletic director.
4:45 p.m. -- Police led a half-dozen people, one of them in handcuffs, from the school board's meeting room after a youth who identified himself as a Middle Creek High School student chided the board for its dropping diversity from school assignment policy.

Seth Keel spoke for about a minute during the public comment period of the meeting, then was joined by other youths and a gray-haired woman as they stood silently for the remaining part of his two-minute speaking time.

As the buzzer rang to mark the end of the two minutes, Chairman Ron Margiotta asked them to leave the podium. "I think not," Keel replied, adding, "I cannot in good conscience leave the podium."

The group chanted in subdued voices, "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!"

Raleigh police officers moved from the back and sides of the room to the group, cuffed Keel, turned all the people around and walked them out of the meeting room.

Six people were taken away from school board headquarters in a police van.

4 p.m. -- The board moved to its public comment period, slated for 30 minutes. Seventeen people had signed up before the meeting. Attorney Ann Majestic told the audience that people are supposed to speak on items on the board's agenda and that some people recently had not done that.

Speakers addressed the proposal to reduce the number of board meetings and abolish committees, diversity in the schools and Project Enlightenment, which serves preschool children and parents.

Christine Kushner of Raleigh reminded board Chairman Ron Margiotta that extensive public comment has been promised on a community-based assignment plan, so diversity is "not quite behind us yet."

"Teachers don't stay in high-poverty schools," Susan Evans of Apex told the board when speaking about the new assignment policy.

3:20 p.m.

-- The board received a report on student achievement on end of grade and end of course tests given this year at the end of the traditional school year.

Assistant Superintendent for Evaluation and Research

David Holdzkom told the board that more students in grades 3 through 8 were on grade level than in the year before, almost 85 percent of students passed end of course tests after some were allowed to take retests, and that the gap between economically disadvantages students and the rest of the student body was down.

The gap in reading has been trending down slowly in recent years, Holdzkom said. The gap in math achievement has been closing more rapidly, he said, though disadvantaged students remain behind in both areas.

Interim Superintendent Donna Hargens outlined the administration's ongoing strategic plan for improvement. One part of that, she said, is looking at what goes on schools where high expectations are set for students. Those schools generally do better on tests, she said.

Member John Tedesco called for setting incremental and achievable goals for schools and students and asked Hargens if the system can realistically try to have 100 percent of high school students graduate four years from now.

Member Kevin Hill said the system needs to keep a 100 percent goal whether it will be met or not. Anything less, he said, would send a message that the board expects some students to fail and accepts that.

3:05 p.m. -- Chairman Ron Margiotta opened the voting meeting with a statement that said the board's controversial decision to drop socio-economic diversity as a goal in every school "is behind us."

With the "distraction of diversity" eliminated and a community-based assignment policy in place, Margiotta said, student achievement is now the school system's goal.

3 p.m. -- Chairman Ron Margiotta convened the board's voting meeting.
2:20 p.m. -- Interim Superintendent Donna Hargens reported that the administration wants to restore parent counseling in Project Enlightenment by contracting with Wake County Health and Human Services and paying for it by letting an assistant superintendent position go vacant and cutting the system's government relations position to half time.

The board had told Hargens to find a way to restore some of the services provided by nine positions already cut from Project Enlightenment. A contract with the county for $225,000 would restore 40 percent of the lost services, Hargens and chief financial officer David Neter said.

The assistant superintendent position for the system's Western District will go vacant Aug. 31 when Kathryn Chontos retires, Hargens said. Leaving it open will save about $200,000 per year, and a clerical position will be moved to a vacant one in another district, Hargens said.

Cutting the government relations position to half time will save $47,500 annually, Hargens said.

1:50 p.m. -- Assistant Superintendent Marvin Connolly, head of student services, asked the board to consider dropping some of its zero-tolerance policies and matching the less restrictive state standards for deciding suspensions.

A professional learning team (PLT) has been looking for a year at ways to reduce suspension numbers in the 140,000-student district.

In the 2009-10 school year, Connolly told the board, Wake gave long-term suspensions to 833 students and short-term suspensions -- 10 days or less -- to 19,396 students.

Board members agreed that the system wants to keep youth in some learning programs rather than send them onto the street with the long-term, year-long suspensions.

Important change will be to increase suspension alternatives and to give principals more leeway to consider aggravating and mitigating circumstances in any incident that now requires suspension.

The board told Connolly to have language changes ready for a vote at its official meeting later.

1:30 p.m. -- The board wrestled with wording of a secondary policy designed to open schools to more groups that want to send home literature with students while not swamping principals with having to decide what can go and what cannot.

After extensive discussion with board attorney Ann Majestic, the board decided it will require proof that an organization is a non-profit, but it will not add proposed language that had said any group has to be countywide and serve at least 500 youth.

School principals can control how often material can be distributed in order to reduce volumes.

The change is in administrative rules and procedures accompanying a policy. With the board's advice in hand, Interim Superintendent Donna Hargens can issue the change on her authority. No board vote is needed.

Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts were among groups the board found out had been blocked from backpack distribution of literature.



Ron Gallagher, Web Editor

Copyright 2023 by Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.