Members of the Great Schools in Wake Coalition accused Wake County Schools Superintendent Tony Tata of scapegoating Don Haydon for the bus problems and said he's the one who should be relieved of his duties.
During the public comment session at Tuesday's school board meeting in which speakers were repeatedly warned not to discuss specific personnel, several GSIW members lamented the senior staff who've left Wake since Tata became superintendent.
Lynn Edmonds complained about Wake's longtime staff being replaced by people with no experience working in school systems, who come from the "free market or the corporate world," or being graduates from the Broad Superintendents Academy.
After being warned not to discuss specific personnel, Edmonds changed her remarks to say staff and not Haydon, the departing chief of facilities and operations. She closed her remarks comparing Wake to a sinking ship with Tata in command.
"I clearly remember John Tedesco referring to this school system as the Titanic and I did not agree with that analogy at that time in that context," Edmonds said. "But in this time, on this day, I think that analogy is perfect for what is happening to this school system under the command of the current captain of this ship.
Those that can are getting in the lifeboats of retirement or they are being just thrown overboard. I hope there is the will to stop this ship from sinking. But in the meantime, I am getting my life vest."
Amy Lee alluded to Tata's past career as a U.S. Army brigadier general and how Haydon had overseen the development of school construction programs for the past decade.
"When a military commander has a large-scale failed mission, he or she is relieved of command," Lee said. "Mr. Tata was warned by experienced staff and parents that the transportation plan proposed last spring would not work. He chose to ignore those warnings.
We had a large-scale failed mission and now the wrong person has been relieved of his duties. The latest is just one of many experienced professional staff that have been relieved of their duties or made their own exit plan before Mr. Tata’s ax hit them.
In 10 years with Wake County, efforts by staff have led to the establishment of a building program based on objective need-based criteria rather than individual board member power and persuasion. I honestly cannot imagine trying to issue a bond without the knowledgeable staff that have left. Good luck with that one.
Last week I heard Mr. Tata say that the buck stops with him. But now we see that he pushed it down a level and someone else became his scapegoat. We do not allow bullying in our schools so why are we allowing it to persist in Central Office?”
Lee's remarks cause board member Deborah Prickett to urge board chairman Kevin Hill to remind speakers not to get into personnel issues.
Adrienne Lumpkin brought up the bus problems she's still having with her son in elementary school. She asked Tata whether the bus problems were part of an "underlying plan" to force families to stop using the school bus to make his "ill-conceived cutbacks" on buses work.
"Surely you don’t think that removing an experienced employee is a panacea for the problem," Lumpkin said. "Scapegoating employees who have managed their areas of expertise for a decade cannot be the solution.
The problem has more to do with tunnel vision that has forced an assignment plan upon our school system that just cannot work for us and a lack of listening to your constituents versus your cronies to recognize the pitfalls of ill-conceived decisions for our students.”
Lumpkin said she'll continue to have her son ride the bus because she won't let Tata off the hook for getting students to school efficiently.
Lettice Rhodes said she hadn't planning on coming to the board meeting but had rushed back after hearing what had happened to Haydon. This caused board attorney Jonathan Blumberg to say that she can't really get into personnel.
Rhodes responded by saying that's the reason she came, not what she's going to talk about. She said she wanted her seconds back that had been lost in the exchange.
“The people who have left the staff: people with experience, knowledge, professional credentials and years of successful service," Rhodes said. "Many have been given impossible tasks to do and I would cite the recent busing debacle as one of those impossible tasks.”