Wake schools superintendent placed on administrative leave

Posted March 9, 2010 8:59 p.m. EST
Updated March 10, 2010 7:21 p.m. EST

— The Wake County school board on Tuesday evening placed Superintendent Del Burns on paid administrative leave until his resignation is effective.

The board announced the decision following a closed-session meeting. Chief Academic Officer Donna Hargens will serve as acting superintendent.

In several interviews last month, Burns, who announced he's resigning June 30, accused the board of "partisan political gamesmanship."

Board Chairman Ron Margiotta said Burns’ decision to speak about the board’s conduct was a “poor decision and totally inappropriate.”

Burns and newly elected school board members were at odds over the decade-old student assignment policy that requires the busing of students.

The school district assigns students so that no school has more than 40 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches. Students are reassigned each year to maintain that level, as well as to fill new schools and relieve overcrowding.

Newly elected school board members have said they want to end the policy in favor of a neighborhood school model. Burns, who has spent more than 30 years in the school system, said ending the system's diversity policy would segregate rich schools and poor schools.

Several community groups called for Burns' removal after his criticism of the board's direction.

Dallas Woodhouse, director of Americans for Prosperity in North Carolina, has called on a nationwide search for a new superintendent that focuses on candidates in favor of the new board's agenda.

"North Carolina's laws leave little doubt that the superintendent, appropriately called an administrator, works for the elected school board. It says a lot that Mr. Burns cares more about socioeconomic diversity than diversity of opinion," Woodhouse said in a statement Tuesday evening.

Some board members had also expressed concern about their ability to work with Burns for the next few months, while others came to his defense.

Board member Carolyn Morrison, who has voted against a resolution to move away from the diversity policy, said she was “unspeakably sad” over the decision to place Burns on administrative leave.

“I really thought we should have made another decision,” she said.

The neighborhood schools resolution requires a second and final vote, which is expected at the next school board meeting on March 23.

Burns, who previously served as Wake schools' deputy superintendent, took over for Bill McNeal in July 2006, becoming the system's seventh superintendent.

He began his career with the Wake County school system in 1976 as a special education teacher at Root Elementary School and worked as a principal at Washington Elementary School and East Wake High School.

In 1999, he was named the school system's Principal of the Year while he was at Millbrook High School. In April 2000, Burns was named associate superintendent and was promoted to deputy superintendent in July 2006.