Wheeler: Can there be hope that the school board can unite?

bwheeler@newsobserver.comOctober 2, 2012 

SCHOOLBOARD5.100212.TI.091312.TI

Wake County's temporary superintendent Stephen Gainey speaks to school board members during a work session Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012. Board chair Kevin Hill asked his colleagues for suggestions on how they want to set up the search process. After the session, Hill said he would like to have a superintendent in place by July 1.

TAKAAKI IWABU — tiwabu@newsobserver.com

Stephen Gainey, acting Wake County schools superintendent, apparently is a man of miracles.

Did you see it? Not the likeness of his face on a grilled-cheese sandwich or anything. Something far harder to believe.

“Board members from both parties voiced support and respect for him,” said a Tuesday news article about Gainey, assistant superintendent for human resources. Gainey, 42, is temporarily taking the system’s reins after the board voted 5-4 last week to fire Superintendent Tony Tata.

These are folks who can’t even vote unanimously to take a break at a three-hour board meeting.

So, honestly, that there exists a human being who earned support from both sides almost rekindles the little flame of hope – a Democratic-majority board working together, however testily, with a Republican-hired superintendent – that was fire-hosed with Tata’s ouster.

Trust in board not universal

Initially tight-lipped with their whys for dumping Tata, the majority members were saying, “You just have to trust us.” What they seem to have miscalculated is that, even among those who believe in the direction they want to take the system, the breath-holding was intense; the hope that they would rise above the rancor, extreme.

To shatter that fragile bubble – antagonizing the purse-string-holding Wake County commissioners at the moment the school system needs to go to voters with a billion-dollar bond referendum – the reasons needed to be clear and unimpeachable, especially when so many in the county are disinclined to believe them trustworthy at all.

Those who have supported Tata’s firing say he was insubordinate, obstructionist, a bully; ill-prepared and inexperienced in education matters. I spent some time watching video of some recent school board meetings, trying to get a better idea of what those who live inside the drama have seen.

What I was left with was weariness. What could possibly entice anyone to want a school board seat? Who would choose to spend hours upon hours of their lives in acrimony this way?

Surely, only selflessness and a sense of working for the common good can be cited – two ideals that would be much easier to ascribe to all here if three of the nine weren’t currently seeking higher office.

What’s done is done

Years ago, I worked with a lovely man who was loath to question motives and viewed everyone, even people with whom he disagreed, as good-intentioned.

An admirable philosophy, yes. Charitable in the extreme, yes. Easy to do, not so much.

The school board majority members did what they believed they had to do.

What’s done is certainly done.

Credit them with good intentions.

And instead of responding with pettiness and spite, instead of vowing to vote down the bond issue, instead of letting the school system stagnate while waiting to vote the bums out, remember how critically important this is – to every single person who lives here.

The quality of our schools, the education of our children, the vitality and health of our community are at stake.

Refreshingly, we don’t know whether the beloved Gainey is a Republican or a Democrat. All we know is that he has the respect of the entirety of our fractured school board.

Can there be another schools superintendent in the land around whom they can unite?

Miracles apparently can happen.

bwheeler@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4825

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