Group calls Wake school accreditation response misleading

khui@newsobserver.comJanuary 9, 2013 

The Wake County Taxpayers Association is accusing the Wake County school system of making misleading statements about how the school board is getting along in a response to a complaint filed with an accreditation agency.

In a Dec. 17 letter to AdvancED, the school system said most school board votes are unanimous and that the board only has “good faith differences” on issues. The Taxpayers Association says Wake’s response “is elusive, misleading, and treats the concerns of many in this county with frivolity.”

In a letter dated Monday, the Taxpayers Association asks AdvancED to do an on-site, thorough review of the district. To support the case, the group points to a trio of recent highly publicized incidents involving the school board, such as when one member yanked the microphone out of another’s hand at a public meeting.

“The disagreements on the WCPSS School Board are not merely ‘good faith differences’ as the response letter calls them,” says the new Taxpayers Association letter. “They are appalling acts of bullying and intimidation.”

AdvancED is requiring Wake to respond to a September complaint filed by the Taxpayers Association. The group charged that the Democratic board majority is creating “unnecessary fear and uncertainty” with actions such as dropping the choice-based student plan.

The taxpayers association amended the complaint in October to include the Democratic majority’s firing of Superintendent Tony Tata, who had backed the choice plan. But AdvancED did not ask Wake to respond to that issue.

In its December response, the school system said the board majority scrapped the choice plan based on “reasonable beliefs that there were demonstrable and substantial problems” with its implementation.

School officials also tried to downplay allegations of discord on the board.

Wake’s response said that between Nov. 30, 2011 and Nov. 30, 2012, 75 percent of board votes were decided unanimously and that only 7 percent were approved by 5-4 majorities. Wake is counting a variety of non-controversial items such as approving minutes of past meetings and the consent agenda. Votes such as scrapping the choice plan and firing Tata were 5-4.

“While good faith differences of opinions remain on some important matters, and there is room for improved civility as the Board debates these matters, all Board members avow that they are committed to following proper procedures, working together with mutual respect, and seeking consensus wherever possible while pursuing what they believe to be in the best interests of students and their families,” according to Wake’s Dec. 17 response.

But in the new Taxpayers Association letter, the group points to what it calls “ongoing inappropriate and borderline criminal behavior” by board members. The group cites heated statements that now-school board chairman Keith Sutton made during the September closed-session discussions on Tata’s firing and board member Susan Evans yanking the microphone out of colleague Deborah Prickett’s hand at a Nov. 28 meeting.

Evans apologized for the microphone incident. Sutton said that there were behaviors exhibited by multiple board members during the Tata discussion, himself included, that they’re not proud of.

“If anything, this deplorable behavior, both publicly and behind closed doors, has increased dramatically since the filing of the original complaint,” according to the Taxpayers Association letter.

At the time of Wake’s Dec. 17 letter, AdvancED officials said they’d respond within 30 to 45 working days.

AdvancED combined the Taxpayers Association complaint into its ongoing review of the complaint that the state NAACP filed in 2010 that resulted in the lowering of the accreditation status of Wake’s high schools.

AdvancED initially lowered the accreditation of Wake’s high schools from fully accredited to “warned” status but raised them to “advised” status in January 2012. Wake is hoping, despite the new complaint, to regain full accreditation.

Unlike the state NAACP complaint, AdvancED has not come to Wake as part of its investigation of the Taxpayers Association complaint.

“We really feel that in all fairness they need to come here and see for themselves what’s happening,” said Russell Capps, president of the Taxpayers Association at a news conference Wednesday.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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