The issue of Michael Alves' unannounced private meeting with the new Democratic members of the Wake County school board won't seem to go away.
The issue was revisited with some heated comments during Tuesday's board meeting. The discussion, more of which is detailed later in the post, shows the continuing wariness between the Republican and Democratic members.
"Why should the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and the Wake Education Partnership get a pass?" Stoops writes. "If you excuse the enablers, you excuse the behavior.
So, I am calling on Harvey Schmitt of the GRCC and Steve Parrott of the WEP to issue a joint apology to the taxpayers of Wake County. We’re waiting."
Now returning to Tuesday's meeting, the issue came up again when Republican board member Debra Goldman, the main critic of the Dec. 7 meeting, asked about having learned that the school system will be paying to use Alves' software.
Superintendent Tony Tata said the Chamber had been paying Alves but the school system would now be doing so.
Chief Business Officer David Neter said the district used Alves' proprietary software for the online magnet application process. He said the software will again be used Jan. 17 when round one of the choice selection process for the new student assignment plan begins.
"My impression was that the only way this plan can go forward with fidelity is to use his software," said Democratic board member Christine Kushner.
James Overman, head of the student assignment task force, said they decided to use Alves' software to "make sure we were doing it right."
Neter said they "didn't want to reinvent the wheel." But he said they're looking at using other software as long-term alternatives.
Republican board member John Tedesco said they had looked at Alves' software when he was chairing the now-defunct student assignment committee. He said it was "probably the best software to use for a choice model."
Democratic board member Jim Martin joined Goldman in asking for information on how much the district is paying for the use of Alves' software.
Goldman said that she had "a few other questions" about that Dec. 7 meeting.
Goldman questioned why it wasn't communicated ahead of time to the whole board via e-mail.
Goldman also said she's repeatedly heard that Tata supported and approved the meeting. So she said she was going to put Tata "on the spot" by asking "did he support and approve that private meeting with select board members?"
Tata said Democratic board chairman Kevin Hill approached him after the Dec. 6 meeting about reserving a room the following day for the three new members. He said "there was no formal vetting."
“I felt like it was part of the orientation because they had been going through orientation, and maybe I should have stopped and involved the whole board but to me it was because we were running the new board members through orientation for many days preceding that," Tata said.
Goldman asked Tata if he knew who planned to be in the meeting and what the purpose of the meeting was.
"I think Kevin expressly said the three new board members and Michael Alves so they could get an update," Tata answered. "And again, it’s probably my mistake for not involving the entire board.”
“I don’t think it’s your mistake," Goldman said. "It’s the chairman’s mistake.”
“But I do remember you saying you thought that was a good idea," Hill said to Tata. "No, I didn’t ask permission. I made the superintendent aware that we would like to do this.
I think I said specifically because I’m not going to do this behind your back. I wanted him fully involved with what was going on and I thought it would be good for the three new board members to get up to speed and Tony said, ‘Yeah, I think that would be a good idea.’"
Goldman then pressed Hill on how the meeting was arranged considering Alves lives in Massachusetts.
Hill answered that Alves was in town and getting ready to leave.
“The organization that was helping with the funding wanted to make him available to the new board members to get them up to speed," Hill said.
The request evidently came before the Dec. 6 meeting because Hill responded that he told the group he couldn't make any commitments. But after being elected chairman on Dec. 6, he said he was able to do so.
“I don’t think you need to second guess it," Hill said. "I think it was part of orientation, and I was in a position to make that commitment and I did. I take full responsibility for that and I’ve corrected the media and others.
It was not a secret meeting. And I think some meetings are best held in small meetings like the board did, which you participated in many times during the summer when we met with the student assignment team in groups of three. It’s been practice.”
“I think the redistricting was held much the same way,” added Democratic school board member Susan Evans.
“But the difference is the whole board was aware of it,” Goldman responded.
“And the whole board was involved,” added Republican board member Deborah Prickett.
“I think we’re getting in the weeds,” Evans said.
“Is this part of the written agenda?” asked Democratic school board vice chairman Keith Sutton.
“No, but it has relevancy,” Goldman responded.
“We need to get this cleared up,” Prickett added.
Republican board member Chris Malone said he doesn't have a problem with the new members meeting with Alves, which Goldman said she agreed with as well. But Malone said that there should have been notification to the whole board ahead of time, especially in light of the concerns that AdvancED raised in its accreditation report about board governance.
“Perhaps that night you should have said it at the board meeting,” Malone said.
“With all due respect, were you guys notified of the probably 20-something hours we spent in orientation?” Martin responded loudly.
“We were,” Tedesco said. “That’s what I was going to say. I do appreciate Kevin thinking it was orientation, but we did get schedules of all the orientation meetings. Plus the additional materials that you were presented with at orientation, we were all given copies of.
This was the one meeting on your orientation agenda with materials for the orientation that we were not copied on. So that’s what the concern is.”
Goldman added that "the other piece that’s a little bit disturbing" was that Hill was contacted about the meeting before he was elected chairman.
“You said you were asked about setting it up beforehand but you were not the chair," Goldman said. "So I guess was there a collusion or a polling of potential board members of who this is who we’re electing as chair and this is what we’re doing so it’s all planned out ahead and other people knew that to contact you and say, ‘Hey when you’re chair set this up?”
“No I was pretty much following what I read Mr. Tedesco said in the paper that he thought I was probably going to be chair,” Hill responded, drawing a laugh from Tedesco and other board members.
“There was no collusion,” Sutton said. “Ms. Goldman, would you like Mr. Alves’ phone number?”
Goldman answered that she and Kushner had briefly met with Alves on Jan. 6. She said that's where she learned Wake was using Alves' software. She said Alves said "some really interesting things" that she wished the entire board had heard.
Tata interjected that Alves had been in town last month for implementation of the magnet selection process.
“I could have done a better job after Kevin talked with me in making sure everybody understood this meeting was taking place," Tata added.
“Okay then so apology accepted,” Sutton said to end the discussion. “You’ve been brought up to speed. The new board members have been brought up to speed. Is there anyone else who needs to be brought up to speed?"