Wake County Schools

Accreditation agency concerned about Wake schools turmoil

Posted September 26, 2012 9:18 p.m. EDT
Updated September 27, 2012 6:21 a.m. EDT

Wake County Public School System

— An Atlanta-based agency that accredits Wake County schools said Tuesday's firing of Superintendent Tony Tata and other controversial decisions by the Wake County Board of Education could threaten the district's accreditation status.

AdvancED launched an investigation two years ago into governance and leadership on the Republican-led school board that placed the school system's accreditation into jeopardy. Ultimately, under Tata's leadership, the district implemented a series of "action steps" to keep its accreditation.

Now, AdvancED President and CEO Mark Elgart has new concerns about governance and leadership under the Democratic school board majority.

"Right on the heels of what happened a couple years ago, there is another period of instability," Elgart said. "That is of deep concern – and should be – for parents and the community."

The school board voted 5-4 along party lines Tuesday to fire Tata, in part, because of his strained relationship with the board and a leadership style that board Chairman Kevin Hill and Vice Chairman Keith Sutton said "did not leave room for collaborative decision making and input."

The ousting came on the heels of the resignation of Don Haydon, the school system's chief facilities and operations officer, who oversaw busing in the district. Since traditional-calendar schools started last month, the school system has been flooded with complaints from parents about late or absent buses.

On Wednesday, Hill called the busing problems 'disastrous', hinting that they played a role in the decision to release Tata from his contract.

Also on Wednesday, Judy Peppler, a key player in implementing Wake County's current student assignment plan, stepped down from her role as chief transformation officer and interim chief of staff, effective Oct. 6.  

Neither Peppler, who was hired by Tata, nor Haydon gave reasons for their resignations.

Elgart said staff shakeups are likely indicators of "a lot of internal turmoil."

Sutton said he was not surprised by AdvancED's concern, but maintained that the board is within its rights to oust the superintendent, even without "foul play or misconduct."

But Elgart called the move "very troubling."

AdvancED plans to study a 110-page complaint filed by the Wake County Taxpayers Association last week citing a "lack of governance" and "continuous mismanagement" on the part of Democratic school board members.

The Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University also weighed in on the school board turmoil Wednesday, calling it unprofessional.

"The big changes they have tried to make all in one fell swoop are not going to get them far," said Jacob Vigdor, professor of public policy and economics. "The fact that they could not handle this fundamental piece of business makes you think about their long-range planning."

Sutton acknowledged that some people are disappointed with the board leadership and its decisions.

"We have got to do a better job to get along and try to put politics aside," he said. "The events were not politically driven, but I know people feel that way."