Wake County Schools

Controversy surrounds Wake schools chief's appointment

Posted December 24, 2010 5:13 p.m. EST
Updated December 24, 2010 7:03 p.m. EST

— The head of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP voiced his concerns Friday about the appointment of a new leader for the Wake County Public School System.

During a special meeting Thursday afternoon, the board voted 4-2 to hire Anthony Tata, a retired U.S. Army officer and the chief operating officer of the District of Columbia Public Schools, to replace Del Burns, who resigned in June.

The NAACP’s Rev. William Barber called the decision a “secret appointment,” criticizing the fact that a list of candidates was never made public. The board majority decided against publicizing names in an effort to attract top candidates to the job.

Barber also took issue with the board’s vote, noting two board members were absent.

“We are deeply concerned about this appointment,” Barber said. “It’s a split vote, done at a time when board members couldn’t even be at the board meeting, which violates just fundamental basic board responsibility.”

Barber, a vocal opponent of a new Wake County Board of Education student assignment policy, made the comments Friday morning during a news conference on immigration reform and the importance of the federal DREAM Act.

The four votes in favor of Tata’s appointment came from members of a Republican board majority who back a change from the school system’s longstanding practice of busing students to achieve socio-economic diversity in favor of a model where students are placed in schools based on where they live.

The two Democratic board members present at Thursday’s meeting voted against Tata, expressing concerns that he might not be as qualified for the job and a lack of public input. The two other Democrats on the board were unable to attend Thursday’s vote.

Not everyone agrees on the value of public input.

“If you get the public in the mix of the interview process, you're never going hire a superintendent,” said Patrice Lee, a parent and co-founder of the community group WakeCARES.

Tata is a former brigadier general, an author of military action thrillers and a commentator on conservative websites and news shows who has written that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is far more qualified to be president than Barack Obama.

He served for about 18 months as chief operating officer for DC schools, where he oversaw purchasing, food service, technology and other support areas.

“Education is pretty foremost in our minds,” said Lee. “We need someone in the position who is a take-charge type person.”

Lee said she believes that Tata will surround himself with educators to help him make decisions that are in the best interest of the school system.

“The superintendent has to be a mover and a shaker,” Lee said. “They have to be someone who can take charge, to delegate, evaluate.”

Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of Great Schools in Wake Coalition, echoed the criticism of the NAACP. She called the move “appalling,” saying the board ignored the public’s desires for an experienced educational leader and public input in the hiring process.