Wake schools chief stays, for now

Staff WritersFebruary 24, 2010 

— Wake County school board members, meeting behind closed doors Tuesday, left Superintendent Del Burns in his job, electing to continue discussions on his tenure next week.

For now, Burns, who has publicly disagreed with policies of a new board majority, remains superintendent and could stay in office until his intended departure date of June 30, said board member Keith Sutton, one of Burns' supporters in a minority faction of the board.

"That's one of the options on the table," Sutton said during a break in a marathon public hearing Tuesday night on Wake's year-round schools program.

Burns showed up but left at the suggestion of the board chairman, Ron Margiotta.

Margiotta later announced that the nine-member board will resume Tuesday's private meeting on Burns next Tuesday.

The announcement failed to resolve a week of heated discussion about Burns' future among the board majority and its supporters on one side, and, on the other side, the minority faction and those who favored previous Wake policies on school diversity and mandatory year-round schools. But Margiotta said members are making progress on the subject.

"We're all grown-ups," Margiotta said.

Leesville Road schools

With no resolution on the Burns situation, much of the focus Tuesday switched to the fight over whether to keep Leesville Road elementary and middle schools on a year-round calendar. With more than 300 people in attendance, there were large contingents of parents who want to keep the schools on a year-round calendar and those who want to move it back to a traditional calendar.

School administrators are scheduled to recommend next week which year-round schools should convert to a traditional calendar for the 2010-11 school year.

A recent survey of parents has muddied the issue. The majority of respondents from Leesville Road Elementary favored keeping a year-round calendar, while the majority of the respondents from Leesville Road Middle School supported a return to the traditional calendar.

Both schools were converted to a year-round calendar to deal with projected growth that largely hasn't materialized. Year-round schools can serve more students than traditional-calendar schools.

Supporters of converting the two schools back to a traditional calendar pointed to the hundreds of empty seats at nearby year-round elementary schools in northwest Raleigh. They also pointed out that the Leesville Road campus consists of three schools, including the traditional-calendar high school.

"We have three schools that are physically attached," said Kim Grimes, a Leesville parent and teacher. "It's ridiculous to be on different calendars."

But supporters of keeping the two Leesville Road schools on a year-round calendar argued that hundreds of children would have to leave if they switched calendars. They also pointed to statistics that they say show that fewer students have been suspended since Leesville Road Middle School was converted.

"If you decide the traditional calendar is the best calendar for Leesville schools, then you are just as arrogant as you said the prior board was," said Terri Exel, a Leesville Road parent.

For diversity's sake

Speakers also brought up other topics on Tuesday. The largest cheer of the evening came after Sam Haney, a North Raleigh parent, blasted the school board majority's plan to end the socioeconomic diversity policy, saying you can call Wake "a racist school system."

Burns, 56, who favors the diversity policy, announced his resignation last week, saying that he could no longer in good conscience serve the board as it changed long-standing policies in Wake.

On Thursday, he granted a series of interviews to local media in which he openly criticized the direction advanced by the new board majority. Burns had warned that the new majority's plans to end the diversity policy would lead to economically segregated schools.

Some community groups have mounted a campaign to keep Burns on until his announced departure date so that he could help prepare the next school year's budget, while others are calling for his immediate dismissal.

"We need to resolve this soon, for his sake and for the community's sake," Margiotta said.

thomas.goldsmith@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8929

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