By Dane Huffman
School board member Debra Goldman gave a rare glimpse inside the Wake County Board of Education meetings on Wednesday, describing the atmosphere behind closed doors as difficult and sometimes marked by cursing.
“It’s pretty tense,” Goldman said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with NBC-17’s Penn Holderness. “Behind the closed doors, behavior for everyone is magnified because there are no cameras back there.”
Asked if the atmosphere could seem “immature,” Goldman said, “That’s a good word.
“You’ll hear name calling. You’ll hear foul language. You’ll hear attempts at intimidation.”
And the atmosphere may not improve after Tuesday's firing of Superintendent Tony Tata, Goldman said.
“After an act this egregious, I don’t see how this board can go along and say everything is fine,” said Goldman, one of four Republicans on the board.
Board vice chair Keith Sutton, one of five Democrats on the board, agreed with Goldman’s key points. Sutton even visited NBC-17 to review Goldman’s comments.
“Tempers do flare sometimes. People are pretty passionate about what they feel,” Sutton said.
Sometimes, he said, “that passion does overheat” and board members can “use foul language.”
“I would say it’s challenging,” he said of the atmosphere on the board. And he again called the board “dysfunctional.”
“It’s challenging and it’s sometimes tense,” Sutton said.
That tension was evident Tuesday, when the board voted to fire Tata. The move will cost the system a year of Tata’s salary, which is more than $250,000. The system will also pay $7,500 in attorneys’ fees and will raise the salary of acting superintendent Stephen Gainey more than $3,000 a month.
In addition, the system is likely to hire an executive search firm to help. When Tata was hired, that cost exceeded $82,000.
The system had hoped to go to voters with a major bond referendum in May. Tata, earlier in the summer, had begun to make the case, and board chair Kevin Hill said Wednesday that the need for a bond to help build schools was clear.
But Tim Simmons, a spokesman for the Wake Education Partnership, told NBC-17 a May bond referendum is unlikely.
“That almost certainly will move to November,” Simmons said.