Education

School board's direction concerned Burns

Posted February 17, 2010 3:55 p.m. EST
Updated February 18, 2010 1:11 a.m. EST

— Concerns about major policy changes within the Wake County Public School System led the superintendent to announce his intent to resign at the end of the school year, a former school board member says.

Citing "personal and obligatory considerations," Del Burns surprised school board members Tuesday when he said that he could not "in good conscience" continue to serve in the post he has held for nearly four years.

He did not elaborate on his reason why.

"He didn't feel comfortable leading the system down a path leading toward bad times to come," said Tom Oxholm, a friend who served on the school board from 1999 to 2003.

Oxholm said he could hear frustration in Burns' voice when the two spoke over the last few months.

Since December, the school board's new majority has reversed the school system's policy making year-round school calendars mandatory for students.

Four new members also campaigned on ending the system's decade-old diversity policy in favor of neighborhood schools.

"What he found was that these new school board members were not interested in learning anything," Oxholm said. "They came in with a knowledge that they had enough knowledge and a mandate from voters to make immediate change without working through normal governance-type stuff."

"I wouldn't characterize it that way," said board member John Tedesco, who was elected in a runoff election in November. "I feel we gave him every opportunity to work with us."

Tedesco said the school board plans to push for a national search to find the best possible candidate to replace Burns.

"I can understand, after doing something the same way for 33 years and people wanting to look and be innovative and focus on high-quality education, sometimes it's hard to deal with change," he said.

The Wake County chapter of the North Carolina Association of Educators, which represents nearly 5,000 school system employees, fears that change could damage the school system's credibility.

"It's a huge loss. (Burns) is one of the finest educators I've ever worked with," chapter President Jennifer Lanane said. "It's a tragedy that things have come to this."

Lanane said that, with Burns' departure, she is fearful that newly elected board members won't have the guidance they need to make proper decisions.

"They don't know anything about education. They have not taken the time to learn the culture of Wake County schools," she said. "I'm not really quite sure what's going to happen. I guess that's a question for them."