Wake Ed

Groups argue about education leader's ties to Wake County school group

The head of a new business-backed education advocacy group is drawing scrutiny for her ties to a progressive group that actively opposed the former Republican majority on the Wake County school board.

Earlier this month, BEST NC announced it had selected Brenda Berg to be its new chief executive officer. The board members of BEST NC include bigwigs such as Ann Goodnight of SAS; Jim Goodmon, CEO of Capitol Broadcasting; Venessa Harrison, president of AT&T North Carolina; Robert Niblock, CEO of Lowe’s; and Brad Wilson, CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

BEST NC, which says it will be non-partisan, called Berg a “public education advocate and entrepreneur.” The group’s Dec. 19 press release noted how Berg is a member of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce Education Committee and worked with volunteer organizations such as Communities in Schools of Wake County, the PTA and the Wake County Schools Business Alliance.

Not mentioned by BEST NC is Berg’s involvement with the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, which fought the former GOP school board majority’s efforts to end busing for socioeconomic diversity while also trying to protect the magnet school program

During 2010 and 2011, GSIW organized protests, sent speakers to school board meetings, encouraged people to write letters to the editor and frequently issued press releases criticizing the school board.

In a 2011 company press release, Berg said she was a member of GSIW’s executive committee.

Great Schools has been relatively quiet on Wake school issues since Democrats retook the school board after the 2011 election. Instead, members have switched their focus to statewide issues, frequently criticizing Gov. Pat McCroy and the GOP-led General Assembly for their changes to public education.

Soon after Berg’s appointment, the conservative Civitas Institute issued its own press release charging that BEST NC had hired a “partisan activist.” Francis DeLuca, president of Civitas, says Berg “was involved with Great Schools in Wake” and notes how she “actively supported Democratic candidates for the board in 2011.” Berg had given them campaign donations.

DeLuca was also actively involved in the 2011 school board elections. Through Civitas Action, which DeLuca also leads, the group sent mailers and made phone calls in an unsuccessful bid to help the Republican school board candidates.

DeLuca also says in the press release that GSIW and its parent organization, WakeUP Wake County, “promoted a boycott of Variety Wholesalers stores to target one of those conservative leaders, businessman and philanthropist Art Pope.”

The Civitas Institute receives a majority of funding from Pope’s family foundation.

“Ms. Berg’s full history raises grave questions as to whether she can put politics aside and unite the business community, rather than singling out elected officials and enterprises for attacks and boycotts,” De Luca said. “While she heads BEST NC, everything it does deserves a skeptical look.”

Rob Schofield, policy director of the progressive N.C. Policy Watch, fired back with a Dec. 20 blog post accusing Civitas of hitting a “new low” and hitting “the insipidness meter.” N.C. Policy Watch had also been a critic of the former Wake GOP school board majority.

“It lambastes Brenda Berg because she did some work for Great Schools in Wake and that group attacked the policies of Republican school board members and promoted policies endorsed by some Democrats — Earth to Civitas: that’s what sometimes happens when you take positions on issues,” Schofield writes.