By Jonathan Carlson
Two key members of the Wake County Board of Education blasted the leadership style of former Superintendent Tony Tata Wednesday.
Chairman Kevin Hill and Vice Chairman Keith Sutton answered questions from the media at 12:30 p.m. in Cary. The board voted 5-4 Wednesday to fire Tata.
Sutton said the style of Tata, a former general, was “a bit heavy-handed,” and that the board had heard concerns from the staff.
He also pointed to problems between Tata and the board, which has a Democratic majority.
Sutton said the relationship between the board and superintendent “had become increasingly strained over the last few weeks and months. We were particularly concerned about that and the impact on the board and our ability to function.”
Hill pointed to the bus problems that plagued the system at the start of the traditional school year. The head of transportation, Don Haydon, resigned only a few weeks into the school year.
“We've had a mess with transportation that we've tried for weeks and weeks to resolve,” Hill said. He added, in a clear reference to Haydon, “No, I did not think anyone should lose their job.”
When asked about Haydon's future, Sutton said, “I can't speak for him and what his plans might be.”
Hill also pointed to issues with Tata's style.
“What I'm hearing is they [staff] feel the leadership style that the superintendent had in place is not the leadership style which they feel will help Wake County move forward,” Hill said.
He said senior members of the Wake staff had expressed concerns, and that Tata's style did not allow for collaboration and input.
“The superintedent has been here for quite some time, and to be hearing this now did and does concern me,” Hill said.
Hill praised the “inhuman” hours Tata worked and how Tata “calmed the waters” when he first arrived, but said he felt Tata was not the person to take the system forward.
Hill also said the move was not political, and said the move should not impact the school system's push for a bond referendum. Tata had talked about having a bond on the May ballot.
“I think it's pretty clear that we need a bond referendum,” Hill said.
“I don't think third graders know the difference between Democrats and Republicans. This should not be a partisan issue.”
On Tuesday, Wake County Commissioner Paul Coble called the firing of Tata purely partisan. He said county commissioners are now worried if the school board is financially responsible.
Because of continued growth, the school system has said it will need to construct at least 24 new schools. Some of the money for the schools and other projects will have to come from a bond issue, and Coble said with the firing of Tata that bond issue is going to be a tough sell.
“Why would the Wake County Commissioners vote to raise taxes to put a bond issue before the voters; to put potentially a billion dollars into the hands of a group of people who have no leadership and don't know where they are going?” asked Coble.
Coble also said no one on the current school board has any experience dealing with a bond project.
Hill, in his remarks, didn't address Coble directly but did say the move with Tata was not politically driven.
Assistant superintendent Stephen Gainey has been named acting superintendent for up to 60 days. The board would likely name an interim superintendent after that.
Meanwhile, other organizations also are speaking out about the recent Wake County BOE decision.
The North Carolina NAACP and its president, the Rev. William J. Barber, said, “The North Carolina NAACP and its friends and allies in the faith community commend the Wake County Board of Education for the poise and grace with which they handled the difficult issues raised by Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata's performance as Superintendent of the Wake County Public School System.
“As is the case with the rest of the public, because this is a confidential personnel matter, we do not know all the factors that went into this decision and cannot speak for the board. We do know leadership is important. If any school system, business or organization is not functioning at its fullest potential and carrying out the best practices towards the fulfillment of its primary mission and vision — leadership must be held accountable by the governing board.”