The firing of Wake County Schools Superintendent Tony Tata got some air time at the end of the latest edition of NC SPIN that aired over the weekend.
On the show, pundits from the left and right agreed that it was not a politically good decision for the Democratic school board majority to have fired Tata at this time. Panelists also talked about whether the next permanent superintended should be a lifelong educator.
Tom Campbell, the show host, opened the segment by saying that following Wake County schools has been like "watching a yo-yo." Campbell asked John Hood, president of the conservative John Locke Foundation, what he thought of Tata's firing, which he said "was ugly" and "many say it wasn't handled well."
Hood answered that he agreed with Campbell's characterization. Hood said that the new majority, like the former Republican board majority, "have each done inelegant things and have not really tried to work together effectively yet."
"This was not in the interest of the Democratic majority," Hood said. "They made a tactical mistake. It wasn't just I like Tony Tata or I dislike Tony Tata. Even if much of what they said was true, it was a bad idea to do this. It didn't advance their goals, it inhibited their goals. It alienated Democrats in the Capital City."
Campbell asked Democratic political consultant Brad Crone and Republican political consultant Doug Raymond for their assessments.
"It was a brain spasm from the Democratic board at a very inopportune time," Crone said. "And clearly you could see politics in the global perspective wasn't part of the equation because if they had done it, they would have waited until after the election in November or December to fire the guy.
The one other thing that they failed to do is to lay out a case to the public on why this guy needs to go. I think Tata came in in a very volatile situation and calmed the seas. Now I don't agree with him 100 percent, but I think that he came in and had a calming effect. I think he was very competent, and for them to fire him and not explain to the public why you're firing him, you've got a problem."
Campbell asked Raymond if voters will take it out on Democrats in the next school board election. Raymond said voters might do so next year. But Democrats are guaranteed of maintaining their majority as only the four seats now held by Republicans will be on the ballot in 2013.
"To me what Wake County did is they forgot this was a political issue and they acted like a school board," Raymond said. "You see this in smaller counties from time to time, but this is a high-profile event and they acted like a school board. What my concern is is longer reaching is that other counties might be less likely to think outside the box and go outside the educational establishment to hire somebody because of the reaction to it."
But Campbell asked don't people want to get partisanship out of school boards.
"That genie is out of the bottle, especially in places like Wake County and Charlotte where there is built in political establishment and political consultants, with all due respect to the folks sitting here," said Chris Fitzsimon, director of the liberal N.C. Policy Watch.
Fitzsimon also said that while Tata's firing will be a "contentious issue" in next year's campaign, it won't help the Republicans retake the majority in 2013.
"I do think Brad made a point there," Fitzsimon added. "I don't think was a political decision either because this doesn't help them politically. So they must really believe that somebody else should be leading the school system.
I think the fiasco at the opening day of Wake County when there weren't enough buses to get kids to school and a plan that Gen. Tata was championing and the Democrats didn't go along with in the first place was a huge part of this. I think the way interpersonally they got along. I also agree they could have done a much better job along the way if he wasn't doing the things, and remember that Gen. Tata, or Superintendent Tata, works for the board."
Campbell said Fitzsimon was showing his bias by calling him "Gen. Tata."
"No, he works for the board," Fitzsimon answered. "That's what he is now. He's no longer superintendent. He works for the board. If the board tells him to do something (and) he doesn't do it, that's grounds for separation."
Campbell asked Crone how he thought the superintendent search would be handled.
"I think they will do a nationwide search and go outside," Crone answered. "I think the interim superintendent will be a good fit for right now, but I really do think they need to look beyond to try to find somebody who can perhaps bridge the gap between the two partisan sides."
Campbell asked Hood what his criteria would be looking for a new superintendent.
"They need somebody who is open to innovation, but is a politically skilled person who will not pick a fight or be perceived as being in one faction or the other," Hood answered. "I'm not sure that this is accomplishable, and I do not think they should limit themselves to the establishment
There's absolutely no reason to do that. You have chief academic officers who can be educators that make those decisions. Much of what the superintendent is doing is infrastructural and logistical."
Campbell asked if they thought that the interim would serve until "the real superintendent" is hired. Raymond said yes and added he agreed with Hood.
"I think they had taken a bold step to go outside the box and now I think they'll go back with an establishment..." Raymond said.
"They'll retreat and go safe," Campbell interrupted Raymond as time ran out.