Sutton expected to be elected Wake school board chairman

Staff writerNovember 30, 2012 

WAKESCHOOLBD10-NE-072010-RTW

Wake School Board member Keith Sutton listens to speakers.

ROBERT WILLETT — ROBERT WILLETT-rwillett@newsobserver.com

The start of the Keith Sutton era as Wake County school board chairman is expected to begin Tuesday.

The board will hold an organizational meeting on Tuesday to select a chair and vice chair for the next year. Sutton, the board's vice chairman, said that Kevin Hill has told him he won't seek another term as board chairman.

While Sutton won't outright say he's running for chairman, it's pretty clear if you read between the lines.

"If the board selects me to be chair, I will be ready and willing to accept the responsibility," said Sutton, noting how he's been vice chair for the past year.

It would be highly unusual for Sutton's fellow Democratic members to push him aside next week.

Hill has been chairman for 1.5 years over two different stretches. He was first elected chairman in June 2009 until the election of a new Republican majority led to his ouster in December 2009.

When Democrats regained the majority last year, Hill was elected chairman in December. He was reappointed chairman in June during the organizational meeting.

Since then, state legislation was passed allowing Wake to hold the annual meeting organizational in December.

Sutton, the board's second-most senior member, has had an interesting three years of service. He was appointed in June 2009 to replace Rosa Gill, who had been appointed to fill a vacancy in the state House.

Sutton represents District 4, which consists of much of Southeast Raleigh. He's the board's only African American member.

Sutton earned notoriety in July 2010 when he was nearly arrested at a school board meeting. Sutton, who had sought an apology from Raleigh police, had said he was only trying to calm things down when he went into the crowd of people being arrested for disrupting the meeting to protest the end of the diversity policy

During the two years the Republicans were in the majority, Sutton consistently voted against them on student assignment issues, such as eliminating the use of socioeconomic diversity in the student assignment policy and adoption of the choice plan.

But Sutton also worked with Republicans on some issues, such as getting changes in student discipline policies and creating the single-sex leadership academies.

While the Republicans voted no on the June directive to switch back to address-based school assignments, they worked with Sutton on the wording to try to make it more acceptable.

But Sutton's relations with at least some Republican members got frayed during the heated closed-session discussions that led to the firing of Superintendent Tony Tata.

At the Sept. 24 closed-session meeting, Sutton told the GOP members that he and the Democratic members were "going to kick your asses." During the meeting on the following day in which Tata was fired, Sutton loudly said to board member Debra Goldman, "Shut the (expletive) up!"

Goldman complained about the incident to Cary police. Sutton has said the closed-session talks were heated but denied his remarks were threatening.

As for vice chair, it would likely be one of the three new Democratic members elected last year: Susan Evans, Christine Kushner or Jim Martin. Based on past practice, the vice chair would serve under Sutton for two years and then take the chair's position heading into the 2015 school board elections.

Republican board members say they haven't been contacted by their Democratic colleagues about the chair and vice chair positions.

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