Wake County Schools

Tata says school board candidate's claims untrue

Posted October 7, 2011 5:44 p.m. EDT
Updated October 7, 2011 6:18 p.m. EDT

— Wake County's school system superintendent says that claims that his staff was not responsive to a school board candidate's concern about campaigning on school property are not true.

Jim Martin, a registered Democrat who is running for the District 5 seat, said in a statement last week that he never heard from Superintendent Tony Tata when he reported last month that one of his political opponents, Cynthia Matson, a Republican, was reportedly handing out campaign fliers at a high school football game.

Martin also released a string of emails, Tata told reporters Friday, that did not include his response, which he sent 38 minutes after receiving Martin's message at 11:29 p.m. Sept. 2.

"A reasonable person can assume that was intended to create a false impression," Tata said, adding that he wanted to set the record straight.

"I don't care if it's a Democrat, Independent or Republican, if somebody says something about my staff or me that is untrue, I'm going to correct the record," he added. "Frankly, I gave Dr. Martin two opportunities to correct the record himself, and he chose not to."

Tata added that in the 12:07 a.m. email, he thanked Martin for bringing the matter to his attention, and that he then directed his chief of staff to resolve the issue.

The following week, Tata said, he reminded school staff of the rules that prohibit campaigning on school grounds.

Martin, a professor at North Carolina State University, said Friday that he didn't do anything intentionally to create a false impression and that his campaign did nothing wrong.

"I am very sorry for any misunderstanding between us," Martin said, "and I request an opportunity to sit down and talk to Mr. Tata to resolve it."

He declined to talk in any more detail about the matter.

The issues between Martin and Tata came up last week after Tata had posts removed from Enloe High School's Key Club website, which sought volunteers for the school board campaigns of Martin and another Democratic candidate, Susan Evans.

Martin has said members of the club asked for ways to get involved and that he said school leaders told him it was OK for the students to do so as long as it was completely voluntary.

Tata, however, said it was appropriate to take down the posts because the volunteer organization is a school-sponsored, not student-initiated, and that school board policy requires schools to remain neutral on political matters.

"They imply approval of the activity by the club in the school, and it is inappropriate for any school-sponsored club to involve itself in such political campaigns," Tata said Friday.

The issue has been resolved, he said, and school staff have been reminded about the board's policy when it comes to political campaigns.

On another matter related to the school board election, Tata was also asked by a reporter Friday about campaign material in which school board Chairman Ron Margiotta, a Republican, used a photo of himself with Tata.

Margiotta is seeking re-election for the District 8 seat against Evans.

"I would have preferred not to have been associated with any campaign, but it wasn't my picture. It's a free country," Tata said. "I'm the superintendent. I'm neutral, and I remain neutral. I endorse no candidate."