Meeting with Tata closed to public

Margiotta won't release the new Wake school chief's full schedule or say which officials he'll see.

STAFF WRITERJanuary 6, 2011 

  • Wake County schools superintendent Anthony J. Tata told WRAL-TV interviewer David Crabtree on Wednesday that he had been receiving welcoming calls and e-mails from Wake County teachers and administrators while still in Washington, D.C.

    Asked whether he knew what he was getting into in Wake schools, which faces a major budget deficit and a bruising fight over reassignment, Tata predicted that he'd be able to handle what he referred to as "noise."

    "If we just stay focused on student achievement and clear away the rest of the noise, everything's going to be OK," he said.

— Wake County's newly hired, $250,000-a-year schools superintendent will hold his first meeting with the county school board behind closed doors Friday - a session that will come after a two-day whirlwind of secret meetings with elected officials and public appearances before schools, community groups and other constituents-to-be, schools officials said.

Brig. Gen. Anthony J. Tata will begin making appearances in Raleigh today.

Schools officials on Wednesday declined to release his full schedule, which media requested repeatedly under public records law. But administrators shared some details: He'll start by meeting with schools officials and staff members today, and he'll visit several schools and community groups.

Tata also will meet with a number of elected officials, whom school board Chairman Ron Margiotta declined to identify.

"I'm still finalizing his visit, and it's been nuts," Margiotta said Wednesday. "I can't even begin to tell you how many requests I've had. I have about 18 or 19 almost-definite appointments for him."

Asked to identify the elected officials, Margiotta said: "I can't even mention. They'd rather not be mentioned."

The school system also announced a 5 p.m. Friday closed session of the nine-member board, citing an exemption to the open meetings law for discussions of personnel matters.

Tata, 51, has won enthusiastic endorsement from the school board's Republican majority, based on his 28-year military career and track record of a little more than a year and a half as chief operations officer with the Washington, D.C., public schools.

Members of the Democratic minority had asked for a leader with more education experience, but they pledged to work with Tata once he's in office.

Critics also have complained of a lack of transparency throughout the selection process.

Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of the grass-roots organization Great Schools in Wake Coalition, said she was surprised to hear that Tata, who was hired in a short-notice meeting two days before Christmas, would hold his first session with the new board behind closed doors.

"These are the kinds of things that make people feel they are more and more shut out of the process," Brannon said. "I can't imagine what could be so critical that the first meeting with the board of education has to be closed."

A 4 p.m. Friday news conference at the administration's Wake Forest Road headquarters will be open to the public, officials said. Tata will meet with senior staff and some school board members today at the administration building on Wake Forest Road.

In addition, Tata will appear at Millbrook High School from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. today; Baucom Elementary School from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Friday; and Lacy Elementary from 1:45 to 2:45 p.m. Friday.

The announcement Wednesday of Friday's school board meeting exceeded by a few hours the 48-hour legal requirement for public announcements of such meetings.

An advocacy group called NC HEAT has called a 6 p.m. protest in the parking lot of the Barbecue Lodge on Capital Boulevard in advance of Tata's 6:30 p.m. appearance there before the Wake County Taxpayers Association.

"At a time of soaring budget deficits, this decision comes after paying a private company $82,500 in taxpayer dollars to conduct the search," the group said in a statement. "The superintendent search was done behind closed doors with absolutely no public input and without looking seriously at qualified internal candidates."

Staff writer Jack Hagel contributed to this report.

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

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