School board Dems get to work with no GOP presence

All four Republicans miss Saturday session

tgoldsmith@newsobserver.comSeptember 29, 2012 

Stephen Gainey, former Wake County schools assistant superintendent for human resources, signs in officially on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012, as acting superintendent to replace the ousted Tony Tata, who was fired by the school board Tuesday. Looking on after Gainey's swearing-in is Lola Watson, a coordinator in human resources.

THOMAS GOLDSMITH — tgoldsmith@newsobserver.com

  • We’ll meet again The Wake County Board of Education meets again for a work session at 2 p.m. Tuesday, then holds a full session at 5:30 p.m. the same day. Both meetings are at the Board of Education headquarters at 5625 Dillard Drive in Cary. The agenda for the full board meeting is at bit.ly/R333kX.

— The Wake County school board’s Democratic majority forged ahead Saturday, working on a new student assignment plan and swearing in an interim replacement for ousted superintendent Tony Tata.

The board’s four-member Republican minority was occupied elsewhere.

The one-party discussion and swearing in of former assistant superintendent Stephen Gainey as Tata’s acting replacement likely signaled the beginning of an era with more Democratic leeway to enact the agenda on which they were elected last fall.

Tata got the boot Tuesday on a 5-4 partisan vote after 20 often controversial months as leader of North Carolina’s largest school system. The board’s leadership said Tata had failed to bridge partisan divisions on the board.

On Saturday, Laura Evans, the system’s senior director of growth and planning, took the five members present through a proposed revision they had requested of the current choice-based assignment plan for 150,000 Wake County students.

Board members and families both had been taken by surprise by the release on Sept. 21 of an address lookup on the Internet that showed thousands of students being reassigned. Board chairman Kevin Hill eventually had agreed to the release of the proposed assignments developed under Tata’s supervision, but also cited it as an example of the growing strains between the superintendent and the board.

On Saturday, Hill and others had pointed questions about features of the proposed new plan, such as an open-enrollment period during which families could apply to any school in the system. However, in the case of students who elect not to remain in their current school under the “grandfathering” provision, families would have to provide transportation.

“You’re going to have haves and have-nots,” Hill said.

That provision could become a problem when families able to drive their children to school fill certain schools to the point of being capped, members said.

Members also wanted to know why, with stability as one of the prime factors in their plan, so many families appear to have been reassigned under the draft plan.

“What I’ve been hearing since the address lookup went live is lots of communities that are being changed from their historical assignment,” said board member Susan Evans. “If we must, we must, but I am interested in as little movement as possible.”

Republicans reached Saturday said there was no coordinated effort to skip the meeting and attributed their absences to other commitments.

“I’m disappointed to have missed the discussion on assignment, but I’m really disappointed to have missed Dr. Gainey’s swearing in,” said Republican member Debra Goldman, who was campaigning Saturday as the Republican candidate for state auditor.

Hill said he had made known to the board that work sessions would be held in place of the public hearings, which were deemed premature because too few details of the plan were known.

“I have impressed upon the board the time-sensitive nature of this,” Hill said.

Hill said seven members originally committed to the meeting, but two additional Republicans, whom he declined to name, canceled after Tuesday’s vote to fire Tata.

Republican members Deborah Prickett, John Tedesco and Chris Malone cited other commitments when giving advance notice of the absences, a school system spokeswoman said.

Tedesco, Goldman and Malone are running for public office. Democrats Hill, Evans, Keith Sutton, Christine Kushner and Jim Martin were in attendance.

Reached Saturday afternoon, Malone said the absences were not coordinated among GOP members and had nothing to do with Tata’s firing.

“I was tied up at the hospital on a private matter,” Malone said. “No coordination, I assure you.

Goldman and Tedesco agreed there was no Republican plan to skip Saturday’s meeting, noting that the date had been changed several times.

“If we’re not all there, it’s purely scheduling,” she said. “I’m doing my job on that school board.”

Staff writer Josh Shaffer contributed to this report.

Goldsmith: 919-829-8929

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