FIRED WAKE SCHOOLS SUPT. TONY TATA
GOP LOSES CONTROL
WITH TATA’S FIRING
By Cash Michaels
When Wake Schools Supt. Anthony Tata was fired Sept. 25, 2012 after 20 months by the Democrat-led Wake School Board, howling Republicans both on the board, and off, lost control in more ways than one.
“This is a big mistake,” declared a visibly angry Republican board member Chris Malone, who is running for the state House. “It’s a political mistake, and the result - both out there and in here - it’s going to be felt for a very long time.”
“It is an epic failure of this board,” said Republican board member John Tedesco, who is running for state superintendent.
Tata, a retired US Army Brigadier general and well-known right-wing anti-Obama pundit who was hired by the Margiotta GOP-led school board in December 2010, was the last vestige of any real control over the affairs of the school system that county Republicans had, which is why the Wake Republican Party, and right-wing leaning Wake County Taxpayers Association, in addition to the four GOP school board members, railed to high heaven once the exit deal was done.
“I grieve for our children,” cried an emotional Debra Goldman, who served as board vice chair in 2009 when the Republican-majority, led by former board member Ron Margiotta, took power and proceeded to ramrod their neighborhood schools agenda through, causing a national scandal.
The setup was simple. The Democratic majority, led by veteran school board members Kevin Hill as chairman and Keith Sutton as vice chairman, could basically vote in any policy that they pleased, but they needed Tata as superintendent to shape that policy, and then carry it out.
To ensure that Tata, whose right-wing politics and Tea Party sympathies were well known when he was hired by the Republican board in 2010, was left alone, the Republicans in unison loudly warned the community that the Democrats would immediately fire the retired general once they took over.
That bought Tata time. All he needed to do was show that his school choice plan worked, and that Wake parents and business community were happy. The Democrats, he and the Republicans assumed, were now too afraid to touch him.
What the board Republicans like Deborah Pritchett, Debra Goldman, Chris Malone and John Tedesco never realized was that when Tata did veer off course numerous times with unforeseen operational failures to his school choice, school registration and school bus planning, Democratic patience, especially of the new board members like Jim Martin, Susan Evans and Christine Kushner, began to really run thin.
That was especially after Tata, in an extraordinary move last February, publicly attacked Evans and Kushner because of their past association with the liberal group Great Schools in Wake Coalition. He was later forced to apologize for an act that many said he should have been fired for then.
Board Republicans never dreamed that Chairman Hill had the brass to pull the trigger on Tata’s job. They saw him as weak, and an education wonk who embodied everything they wanted to replace in public education.
Still stunned by their board minority status after last fall’s decisive Democratic five-seat sweep, the board Republicans decided early on to make life hell for Hill and his new majority, fighting and threatening him at every turn, and counting on Supt. Tata to make their cherished school choice plan - which was hurriedly passed last fall before the elections by Margiotta’s GOP majority - work.
In turn, Tata, sources confirmed, became dictatorial behind scenes, firing those in Central Office who differed with him based on their professional experience, and bringing in new people at high salaries to maintain the firm grip he felt he needed to stay in control.
What the GOP members didn’t realize was that Tata’s profound inexperience in education would soon not only be very evident when the poorly devised school choice process began to implode, creating more high poverty schools and eliminating promised choice for many parents, but his temperament from years of military training, served to scare career senior staffers, and school principals, into submission.
What The Carolinian had been hearing for months from Wake School System personnel, and those close to them, was finally confirmed publicly by both Chairman Hill and Vice Chairman Sutton Wednesday in a press conference to allay community fears.
"It was becoming increasingly clear that, while [Supt. Tata] did well at calming the waters when he arrived … he might not be the right person to lead our school system going forward," Chairman Hill said, adding that the relationship between Tata and the board was becoming “increasingly strained” and progress towards moving the school system forward were “severely hampered” as a result.
In short, Central Office had become a basket case under Supt. Tata.
Hill denied accusations that the firing was political, saying that if that were true, it would have happened last January immediately after the Democratic majority took over. Despite reservations, Tata was given a chance to work out the kinks of a school choice plan that many feared would result in more high poverty schools.
When problems evolved with student registration, and projections showed that expensive racially isolated schools would result, the Democratic majority pulled the plug on school choice, directing Tata to have his staff devise a base assignment plan instead for implementation in 2014.
The school bus debacle that saw thousands of students stranded at bus stops for weeks at the beginning of the traditional school year, along with hundreds more parents from Southeast Raleigh crowded into the central office in Cary, forced to register their children there instead of their neighborhood school, made it clear that Tata’s inexperience in leading the 16th largest school system in the nation was a major concern.
When Tata then forced senior staff veteran Don Haydon, who was in charge of school transportation, to resign after, by Tata’s order, over 50 school buses were taken out of the fleet, causing massive problems, the board Democrats had seen enough.
Despite the constant excuses made for Tata’s mounting problems, the Democratic majority fired Anthony Tata, freeing him up now to go back to his right-wing punditry, bashing Pres. Obama and authoring military novels with erotic passages.
Calla Wright, president of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African-American Children issued a statement in reaction to Tata’s firing saying, “Do you feel it is necessary for a school system to have a leader who does not have any educational experience? Under his leadership we have acquired Walnut Creek [Elementary School as] a high poverty school in Southeast Raleigh. Based on recent test scores and the mission of this school, these students are suppose to be equipped to exceed in middle school. How can this happen when we look at the [low] test scores of last year's fifth graders?”
Also in a statement Wednesday, the NC NAACP commended the Democrat-led Wake School Board, “…for the poise and grace with which they handled the difficult issues raised by…,” Supt. Tata’s job performance.
“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,” NC NACP Pres. Rev. William Barber said in a statement. “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.”
CASH IN THE APPLE
By Cash Michaels
THE N&O AND THE WAKE SCHOOL BOARD - One of the reasons why folks have a problem with The News and Observer newspaper here in Raleigh is because there are times they don’t know their behinds from their box-empty brains, yet have the gall to be arrogant about it.
Take the recent firing (and deservedly so) of Wake Schools Supt. Anthony Tata.
The editorial scribes at the N&O think it is such a terrible crime, and unjust action, by Chairman Kevin Hill and the board’s Democratic majority. The parents, children and community (I might ask which “community” by the way) will suffer, the N&O assures.
The Democratic board majority must be held responsible for putting partisanship before public responsibility, the N&O opines.
Lord, please, give me a break!
Read some of this N&O garbage:
“…Hill and his colleagues have done everything possible to prove they are partisan, culminating with a party-line 5-4 vote this week to fire Superintendent Tony Tata after less than 20 months on the job.”
N&O Executive Editor
Sept. 28, 2012
“The five Democrats who voted to oust Tata, who was hired by a Republican-majority board 20 months ago, pinky-swear that politics had nothing to do with it. Appearances, however, can be everything.”
Burgetta Eplin Wheeler
Sept. 27, 2012
“Kevin Hill, the board’s veteran chairman, is a particular disappointment for letting the firing go forward. Hill himself had said in July he hoped Tata would remain in the job. As leader of the Democratic faction, he should have impressed upon his colleagues the value of moving beyond partisan rancor.”
Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012
It’s clear the N&O editorialists haven’t been reading their own newspaper’s reporting, for if they did, they would have known that Chairman Hill has had his hands filled with trying to get the Republican minority - still angered not only by the fact that their dearly beloved chairman, Ron Margiotta, was dethroned in last year’s election, but also that their GOP neighborhood schools agenda for Wake was demonstrably rejected by the five-seat Democratic sweep - in line to forget the past, and work together to move the school system forward.
The fact that none of them showed up last weekend for a work session on a proposed new student assignment plan should tell you something.
And doesn’t the fact that three of the four GOP’ers still on the board are running for other public offices BEFORE THEIR TERMS END confirm the notion that they have no intention of working with Chairman Hill and the Democratic board majority?
Where was the N&O editorial demanding that they resign if they didn’t want the job anymore?
Doesn’t the evidence of John Tedesco, Debra Goldman, Deborah Pritchett and Chris Malone’s collective disruptive behavior, and open disrespect towards the Democratic chairman, tell anyone with eyes and ears that getting their partisan way always has been their first priority, and serving ALL of the children in Wake County Public Schools somewhere else on their collective agenda?
Where was the N&O’s editorial demanding that the GOP board minority cut the crap?
Tedesco’s remark about, “I wouldn’t trust this school board [majority] with my lunch money,” a clear dog whistle to the Republican-led Wake County Commission Board and GOP state lawmakers to deny any funding requests from the school board’s Democratic majority. Where’s the N&O’s incisive, “You’ve gone too far” analysis of that?
And doesn’t the well-documented erratic behavior of Supt. Tata towards the Democratic majority also prove his complicity in all that’s gone on? If he was so genuine in wanting the partisan waters calmed, then why didn’t he try to get his fellow Republicans on the board to cool it?
Where were the N&O editorials asking the board’s Republicans to fall in line, especially after Chairman Hill repeatedly made grand gestures, despite documented sharp criticisms from the liberal base like Great Schools in Wake Coalition and the NCNAACP, to give Tata and his failed school choice plan a chance to succeed?
We’ll give N&O editorial page editor Steve Ford a little credit for suggesting in his Sunday column that it’s hard to find any partisan fingerprints on what the Democrats did in firing Tata, given the timing and less than artful (meaning it wasn’t politically slick) way it was handled.
Still, Ford made us gag when he wrote, “ Tata turned out…to be a good listener and someone who seemed comfortable with the educational terrain.”
Gee, then why isn’t he still there, Steve? While Tata the politician gave all of the airs of being a good listener and comfortable with the educational setting in public, our sources behind the scenes confirm what Hill and Sutton said.
The man was only interested in his way, and made senior staff and principals put upon for his severe lack of being collaborative, a serious flaw given that the school janitor had more experience than Tata did.
The only N&O columnist who seemed to have his head above ground for this one was Barry Saunders, who rightfully chided Susan Bryant, chair of the Wake County Republican Party, for issuing this call to arms in her emailed newsletter two weekends ago titled, “War at the School Board”:
“…the radical extremists who have taken over the Wake County School Board are preparing to fire our great Superintendent Tony Tata, and we have to do everything we can to stop them.”
“Face facts,” Saunders wrote in his Sept. 24th column, “ not only are the Democratic board members not radical by any rational definition of the term of the term, but they didn’t “take over” the school board as far as it is known. [They were] all democratically elected.”
The fact that Bryant, who is admittedly and unabashedly a right-wing zealot, is heralding “our great Superintendent Tony Tata” in a mass Republican email countywide, while bashing the “radical extremists who have taken over the Wake County School Board” is incontrovertible evidence that the “partisan rancor” the N&O editorial alluded to last week was anything but Democrat-inspired.
You’ll find no such thing from Chairman Hill, or Vice Chair Keith Sutton. Ever since the Democrats swept the board elections a year ago, they have sought to bring calm, taking flack for moving slowly and seeking compromise on issues they didn’t agree with Tata and the GOP on.
Keeping Tata on, and giving him a chance, as he requested, to carry out his flawed school choice plan, was one of those painful compromises they caught tremendous heat for.
And, as has been well documented, Tata and his plan not only failed miserably, but when he knew he was failing, he began to act erratically, all of a sudden attacking Democratic school board members publicly, issuing a public statement accusing them of affiliating with the liberal child advocacy group Great Schools in Wake Coalition.
What astounds me about the N&O editorial “thinking” (if that’s what you call it) is that it was clear from the very beginning when the Democrats took over that the Republicans had decided to make trouble. You could track their intentions like a wounded deer in the snow.
And it was also clear that Supt. Tata, once he realized that his beloved school choice plan, was screwing up royally to the point where parents, realtors, and even the mayor of Raleigh were complaining, took off the “Mr. Nice Guy” robe and began striking out at his Democratic bosses who he felt superior too (listening to Debra Goldman and John Tedesco will always get you in trouble).
Tata might have gotten way with it, except that when his school choice registration plan, and school choice school bus plan also collapsed in holy horrors, (and remember, unlike last fall’s traditional school rollout, which was already set in stone by administrators as Tata was still learning what he was supposed to be doing, he was completely in charge of this fall), it was extraordinarily clear that this retired US Army Brigadier General did not have the requisite experience to truly run a school system.
Where was the N&O editorial being honest with Wake County parents about that?
This isn’t partisan for me. I truly don’t give two taps past a farmhouse darn what party my school superintendent, or school board members are. Really don’t want to know. Do you know who taught me that?
Wake County Public Schools, who, until 2009, enjoyed true nonpartisanship on its board and in its school leadership.
Indeed, I’ve been surprised to learn after the fact exactly who belonged to what party in past years. And it can be arguably said that many of Wake’s best years academically were during that time, and contributed to the outstanding growth of our entire region.
But when Republicans were elected in 2009 to take over the board, and ramrod their neighborhood schools policy in (something they failed at), that’s when everything changed, and Democrats had no choice but to engage them to wrest power back.
Once Dems got it, they tried to calm things down, but the GOP refused, vowing to disrupt and disturb ever chance they got.
The GOP cared less that Tata’s choice plan (the one they hurriedly passed last year before the new board could take over) would create more high poverty racial identifiable schools.
Tata repeatedly promised that he would fix what was broken about the choice plan, but no fix was in sight.
For anyone, ANYONE to think that Supt. Anthony Tata - a Republican, and Tea Party sympathizer; author of erotic military novels; Fox News analyst; possible future candidate for the US Senate (GOP has been grooming him the entire time he’s been in office, which is why he’s worked so hard to get known and appreciated); and declared hater of the Democratic president of the United States - was not going to eventually show his true colors and ignorance of what it takes to be a REAL public school superintendent, I’m sorry for them and the N&O.
The man NEVER taught a class, NEVER worked under a principal or as a principal. He spent 18 months as chief operating officer of the infamous Washington, D.C. public school system, where he was in charge of ordering desks, blackboards and frozen pizzas.
Hardly the kind of leadership that 16th largest school system in nation needed, or should have wanted.
Tata was the last vestige of the dysfunctional Margiotta era. He was chosen for a political statement AGAINST what was considered the liberal doctrine of socioeconomic (SES) student diversity. No other school system in the world exemplified that doctrine like Wake County, and the Republicans wanted it brought down, no matter what!
Tata was devoted to proving that school choice trumped SES, and when he was ordered to do otherwise, he balked.
It was clear, once Chairman Hill, Vice Chair Sutton, and the rest of the Wake School Board who were being honest, realized Tata’s pattern of behavior amidst the system’s failures, that they couldn’t wait. They had protected him long enough. The public had maintained trust in Tata because they didn’t know.
But the board’s majority knew his failures, and inability to lead without rancor. They moved immediately to put a spiraling situation out of its misery, like the crippled horse that it was.
That’s the story the N&O editorialists have been ignoring, so much so that in the end, they erroneously call Hill and the Democrats “partisans” for their actions.
The editorialists at the News and Observer should be ashamed of themselves. I understand that after three tumultuous years since the GOP takeover, there has been a longing for peace and stability. I get that. The parents of this county get that.
But any intelligent person who truly paid attention had to know that as long as the Republican minority could open their mouths, and they had one of their own as superintendent, there would be no peace.
Only a struggle for power.
N&O, your jade editorials have been shameful!
The case is clear.