Wake County Schools

Taxpayers group files complaint against Wake school board

Posted September 20, 2012 1:11 p.m. EDT
Updated September 20, 2012 8:11 p.m. EDT

— A local group is blasting the Wake County Board of Education in a new complaint for what it says is "continuous mismanagement" and "a lack of governance" by the Democratic school board majority.

The Wake County Taxpayers Association, a nonpartisan group that has historically supported conservative candidates, filed the 110-page complaint Wednesday with the national accreditation group AdvancED, saying the board's "hasty decisions," actions and party-line votes have resulted in "a climate of fear and intimidation with stakeholders in the community."

Specifically, the group is concerned that the board is once again reviewing the school system's student assignment plan, passed by the previous board in October 2011, which was supposed to remain in place for three years.

"We are disturbed that the dysfunction of the current school board and the inability of the new majority to work with the former majority to get anything done," said Russell Capps, president of the Wake County Taxpayers Association. "It's affecting the children and the parents of Wake County in a very bad way, and it just doesn't seem that they can get their act together at all."

There are 14 other issues in the complaint, including:

• Allegations that the board showed a lack of transparency when it voted at 1 a.m. on a directive for school system staff to revise the current assignment plan.

• Democratic board member Susan Evans allegedly rejecting concerns by two community groups "who were intimately involved and consulted" during the creation of the current assignment plan.

• Great Schools in Wake, "a partisan political group whose members include at least three of the newly elected board members," having "extreme influence" in the school board's decision to change the current assignment plan.

• Allegations that school board Chairman Kevin Hill scheduled a "secret meeting" about the assignment plan with newly elected board members prior to him assuming responsibilities as chairman.

• Board member Jim Martin, a North Carolina State University professor, violating board policy by allegedly requesting a discussion to create a policy that would benefit N.C. State professors.

"I think what they're actually doing is putting their finger on a common complaint by a lot of parents," school board member Chris Malone, said Thursday.

Malone, who was part of the previous school board's Republican majority, said he believes the complaint has merit.

"Things have been disjointed. It's been dysfunctional, and too partisan," he said.

Vice Chairman Keith Sutton, part of the current Democratic majority, said that while all concerns should be thoroughly examined, he believes many of the allegations are not relevant and that many of them have been taken out of context.

"Most of the complaints are centered around the personal behavior of some of the board members as opposed to procedural misconduct by the board," he said.

The new complaint is the second in as many years to go before AdvancED.

In 2010, the state chapter of the NAACP complained about policy changes by the then-Republican-controlled school board, including the elimination of the district's decade-old student assignment policy, which placed students in schools with the aim that each school across the district would be socio-economically diverse.

In March 2011, AdvancED found that the school board created a "climate of uncertainty, suspicion and mistrust throughout the community."

The board has since taken steps to improve its governance and to address problems that AdvancED outlined in its report.

But Capps said Wednesday that "the positive improvements … are slowly being eroded away by the continuous mismanagement and lack of governance by the new board majority."

"The new majority set about immediately to bash the (new student assignment) plan and direct staff to create a new plan," according to the new complaint.

The current three-year plan gives parents more input into where their children are assigned.

In June, however, the school board directed school system staff to revise the plan, partly because board members were still concerned that it doesn't adequately address the needs of students in low-performing schools.

Parents also complained that it wasn't working for their families, and some likened the new assignment plan to a lottery.

The school system is still working on the revised plan for the 2013-14 school year.