Wednesday, October 26, 2011



by Cash Michaels
An analysis

            According to John Tedesco’s “Basic Information” on his Facebook page, the District 2 Wake School Board member touts himself as being “widely recognized for his leadership and accomplishments as a public servant…,” although he’s only been in elected office just short of two years. 
            On the "Our Leadership" page of The North Carolina Center for Education Reform (NCER), the nonprofit group that Tedesco was recently appointed president/CEO of, he is listed as a "proven public sector leader" and "transformative force."
             Per his Facebook "work info," Tedesco says he was once "city manager" from 2000-2002 of Highlands, a small town of over 5,000 by the  New Jersey shore.
              Tedesco again touts himself as once being a "city manager" on the NCER "Our Leadership" page, again referring to Highlands.
            Town officials there say his actual title was "borough administrator" (local newspaper clippings confirm this) and Tedesco's tenure wasn't as productive as he portrays.
            In fact, it was a failure.


            According to a Sept. 12, 2002 story in the local Asbury Park Press newspaper titled, "Council Lets Official Go," Tedesco was unceremoniously "relieved" of his duties, by a four-to-one vote of the Highlands Borough Council, on Sept. 4th of that year.
           "We need leadership in the borough," then Council President Robert M. Rauen, the senior member, is quoted as saying. "There was no one specific reason that the council came to the decision to relieve John of his duties."
             Though at least one councilperson, a friend sources say, tried to stick up for Tedesco, Rauen was adamant, and apparently the majority of the Highlands Council felt the same.
              "Leadership is the key at this point," Council President Rauen insisted. "This is a quality position, and we need leadership."
             In a letter upon his dismissal, Tedesco wrote that despite his "drive, passion and commitment for this community...all of my efforts could not combat the fact that I was naive to believe that hard work and progress could stand above politics as usual."
             The newspaper, like the town council, wasn't buying it, however. The Asbury Park Press reported that because the council, "...has had an issue with the timeliness of Tedesco's performance," it, the paper later continued, "... opted to relieve him of his duties immediately."
             "So, basically the issue with Tedesco was lack of leadership on his part and not completing tasks assigned by the council in a timely fashion," a well-placed source in Highlands who asked not to be named, said.
               Sources in Highlands say that Administrator Tedesco proved not to be qualified for the job, among other problems. And they dispute his claim that "politics" was the real reason for his dismissal, saying that though he was hired by an all-Republican council in 2000, at the insistence of a local prominent businesswoman, Tedesco was terminated by a bi-partisan board with a 3-2 GOP majority.
              The two council Democrats reportedly voted with Rauen and the Highlands mayor - two of the original officials who hired him in the first place - to show Tedesco the door, sources maintain.
              Not surprisingly, Wake School Board Vice Chair John T. Tedesco today, almost a decade later, does not tell that story of how he lost his job as "city manager" on his Facebook page, or anywhere else.
           But he insists on being seen as “widely recognized for his leadership and accomplishments as a public servant….”
          On that same Facebook page, the Republican-led board vice chair says he’s a “Garner family man…,” though he isn’t married (the divorced Tedesco is reportedly engaged) and has no known natural offspring. Indeed, Tedesco fancies himself on his Facebook page as a “true champion of children” and also having a “…unique background and expertise on educational issues [that] has earned him national recognition.”
            Apparently Tedesco is hailing his many “anti-liberal” speeches across the state at right-wing Tea Party rallies, trumpeting his role in helping to dismantle Wake Public School System’s once nationally recognized socioeconomic student diversity policy in favor of racially identifiable neighborhood schools. 
           One high-profile neighborhood schools critic, US Education Secretary Arne Duncan, during a visit to Raleigh this week, said he “[didn’t]…think it [was] in the best interests of children or the community” because of the prospect of creating black and Hispanic high poverty, scarcely resourced, very expensive low-performing schools.
            Last January, in a Washington Post letter to the editor, Sec. Duncan fired one of the first shots at the Tedesco-backed policy, calling it “troubling.”
           And even satirist Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central gave Tedesco both rhetorical barrels when he blistered the young conservative in January, not only by name, but with Fox News footage of Tedesco justifying the Wake move to neighborhood schools.
            "Luckily,” Colbert mocked, “Tedesco is part of a group of Tea Party-backed Republican school board members who recently voted for Wake County schools to go back to the old system of separate neighborhood schools to better teach the kids the three 'R's.”
 As Colbert deadpanned, the words "Readin', 'Ritin', and Resegregatin'" then flashed on the screen.
Indeed, Tedesco proudly defends publicly accusing past Democratic Wake School Board members of “sprinkling” low-performing black children throughout the system so that they would be “hidden,” and leaders such as Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker of “institutional racism” for supporting socioeconomic student diversity in the first place.
Tedesco has been accused by fellow board members, like District 4’s Keith Sutton, of stretching the truth about the Republican-led board’s accomplishments in student achievement, among other things, recently taking credit for a rise in 2008 graduation rates when Tedesco didn’t even get on the board until 2009, for instance.
And black leaders are still bristling after Tedesco, who is white, in a letter to a local white pastor, boasted he knew more, cared more and DID more, about educating black children than black leadership like the NCNAACP because of, among other life experiences, "a few ex-girlfriends who were African-American and Latino."
       Whatever the criticisms of his brash, over-the-top style that Tedesco claims have since rolled off his back, the vice chairman’s political fortunes are about to change, depending on how the Nov. 8th District 3 runoff turns out.
In the wake of the devastating Oct. 11th school board elections which saw four Democrats defeat Republicans, including Chairman Ron Margiotta, who was voted out of office after eight years, the outspoken Tedesco is just one election away of getting what his many critics say he must not have if Wake Public Schools are to turn away from the divisiveness of the past two years.
       The chairmanship.
       While partisans in the officially  nonpartisan District 3 North Raleigh runoff race between Democratic incumbent Kevin Hill and Republican-Tea Party challenger Heather Losurdo battle it out, the apparent bottomline is that if Losurdo wins, the board Republicans maintain their 5-4 majority, and Vice Chair Tedesco is favored to become chair, replacing the deposed Margiotta.
        If Hill retains his seat for a second term, however, then the Democrats on the board regain the majority they lost in 2009 when Tedesco and three other Republicans were elected to join Margiotta in an historic overhaul of student diversity.
        A diversity policy that assured that black and Latino students had access to the same quality education and instruction that their white counterparts had in the system, and saw test scores soar a decade ago as a result.
        And while Democrats have gotten the message that the 3-4 percent of system busing for diversity per the previous policy is something many Wake parents are leery of if it threatens their child’s stability in school, new Democratic board members, set to be sworn-in in December, say allowing any student assignment plan, including Supt. Anthony Tata’s just approved school choice plan, to create more high poverty schools, is unacceptable.
         They believe that stability, proximity and student achievement can equally co-exist in the same plan, something that is not evident now.
         Translation - stopping Losurdo, a three -year resident who once lead the Northern Wake Republican Club and agreed with her husband that President Obama was “like a skunk,” means stopping Tedesco.
And stopping Tedesco from becoming Wake School Board chair, critics say, means preventing more high poverty schools.
        “We have already had several years of bad leadership--bad leadership that has caused our nationally recognized, award winning school system to come under the scrutiny of the Office of Civil Rights, and placed our high school accreditation in jeopardy,” Patty Williams, spokesperson for Great Schools in Wake Coalition, a nonprofit pro-diversity group, said.  “Tedesco is a political ideologue whose use of highly charged rhetoric and penchant for misusing facts (remember--he tried to justify resegregating our schools by invoking the 1954 Brown v. Board decision!) has divided our community.”
         “The recent election of three new members to the School Board was a cry for civility and common sense governance,” Williams continued. “It was a cry for a return for reasoned public engagement, thoughtful reflection, and a focus on student achievement--not merely assignment.  Tedesco as Chair takes our eyes off the prize--the 146,687 children who attend public school in Wake County.  And who could be more important than our children?”
Losurdo’s supporters have already hit the streets, and the airwaves, warning that if Hill is re-elected, the Republican neighborhood schools policy is doomed and there will be a “return to forced busing.”

They add that Supt. Tata’s school choice plan will be changed, and Tata himself will be shown the door, something that not one Democrat has ever uttered.
         No less than Tedesco himself, trying to directly link Hill with NCNAACP Pres. Rev. William Barber, a diversity advocate who has legally challenged the board, has been leading the scare tactics.
          “Hill and the winning Democratic school board candidates have talked about doing more to promote diversity in the new assignment plan"- and his allie (sic) Rev. Barber is calling for us to stop until we see if his buddy Hill can win a run-off on Nov. 8th so they can tinker with the new plan,” Tedesco posted on his Facebook page Oct. 17, the eve of the Wake School Board passing Tata’s plan 6-2, with both Hill and fellow Democrat Keith Sutton of District 4, voting to oppose.
         Hill has made clear that he supports the school choice plan, but voted against it because he felt key questions had not been answered or adequately addressed per assuring that all that could be done to prevent the creation of more low-performing, high poverty schools, was being done.
         If Hill isn’t reelected, supporters say, a Chairman Tedesco-led Wake School Board, will never address them.
         “If this new assignment plan has any hope of succeeding, the details must be worked out and shared with the public,” says Yevonne Brannon, chair of Great Schools in Wake Coalition. “Successful implementation of any new plan will require conscientious board members who are not afraid to ask tough questions that uncover the "devil in the details" and who will not lose sight of student achievement.”
         Others point to Tedesco’s aggressive behavior when he doesn’t get his way, as he did in October 2010 when, after fellow Republican Debra Goldman made it clear she would not support his 16-zone school choice plan, an angry, snippy Tedesco verbally attacked her during a board work session  in front of television cameras, calling Goldman “prom queen” and “Ms. Pinky Hair-Do.”
         He was later forced to apologize publicly for his behavior.
         Wake Democratic Party Chairman Mack Paul, credited with steering the Democratic school board victories, wrote followers earlier this week in an email message titled, “Chairman Tedesco,” Recall that it was John Tedesco who vowed at a Tea Party rally to, “keep bringing conservative values to education.”  He declared that “We stand on the forefront of a new American Revolution … and I think it’s fitting that that revolution, again in 2011, begin with a tea party!”
          Chairman Paul continued,” Stephen Colbert best captured Mr. Tedesco’s vision for Wake County:  “take a successful school system, concentrate the poorest children into a handful of schools, and then allocate extra resources to address the problem created by this approach.”  In other words, he believes that only by breaking the school system can we fix it.
Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said it’s crucial for the voters of District 3 on Nov. 8th to “make their choice.”
        “I think they’re going to make the right choice,” Meeker told the Power 750 WAUG-AM radio program “Make It Happen” last week. “We can move forward as a community together, or we can get back to these partisan agendas, and have someone like John Tedesco be the chair.”
         “I think it’s a pretty clear choice,” Meeker concluded, referring to fellow Democrat Kevin Hill, “ and I think the people of District 3 will make the right choice.”
           John Tedesco has repeatedly been invited to sit down and interview with this reporter, but has repeatedly refused, instead accusing me of "demonizing" him and the work of the Republican-led Wake School Board.


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