Should the Wake County school board move quickly to extend Superintendent Tony Tata's contract?
As noted in today's article, Tata is generally getting good reviews as he hits the one-year anniversary mark of his tenure on Tuesday. But he also faces some challenges, including potentially from members of the new Democratic school board majority.
Republican school board members are talking about wanting the board to take action next month to extend Tata's contract past the June 30, 2014 end date.
The Republican school board members who hired him are still among Tata's most vocal supporters.
“I think that in a system the size of Wake there will always be challenges," said GOP board member John Tedesco. "I think he’s done a wonderful job managing the challenges, protecting our teachers and moving us forward."
Tata is also getting praise from a number of people who aren't on the board.
"From the perspective of the business community, he has won a great deal of respect," said Harvey Schmitt, president of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. "He has done a good job of meeting the challenges he’s faced and positioning the school system moving forward. I quite frankly don’t hear any concerns from the circles I travel in.”
Mark Elgart, president of AdvancED, said Tata's leadership is part of the reason that the district's high schools are on pace to get full accreditation by next January. He said at this point they don't see a need for a return trip and will instead read the school district's progress report, which is due Nov. 1.
"Without question, the superintendent’s leadership had a significant impact on the results of the review," Elgsrt said. "He has clearly gained the confidence of the board and the community to provide the leadership role he was asked to fulfill.”
Even Monserrat Alvarez, who protested Tata's appearance at the Wake County Taxpayers Association, last January said Tata is doing a better job than she thought he would do. But she's still suspicious of him because he was hired by the Republican board majority.
"He has done a good job, but I still have some doubts about him and how he came here," Alvarez said. "He really hasn’t tried to push his agenda.”
Some Democratic members are saying Tata's done a good job too.
"There are some areas he could have done better in, but you can’t expect him to be perfect in his first year, both in Wake and in his first job as a superintendent," said Democratic board vice chairman Keith Sutton. "I think he’s done well and is certainly on the way to being a successful superintendent."
New Democratic board member Christine Kushner is also saying positive things about Tata.
But new Democratic board members Jim Martin and Susan Evans aren't talking publicly about what they think of Tata's work this past year. They're also the two board members who've butted heads the most with Tata since taking office.
Republican board member Chris Malone said some board members aren’t showing Tata the respect he’s showing them. He thinks a contract extension would be a good way of showing Tata respect for his accomplishments.
“I’m a little concerned that some people won’t extend it because they want to prove that they’re in charge," Malone said.
Tedesco says that Tata has done such as “dynamic job” that he’s attracting national attention that makes him attractive to other school districts looking for superintendents. He says the board “needs to work hard to show our full support” or else Tata might decide he’d rather work elsewhere.
“This is my opinion, not anything I’ve heard from him, but if some board members put the squeeze on him for their own political purposes, then he may be more inclined to accept offers from other places to exercise his leadership," Tedesco said. "I hope he stays for a long time.”
Sutton says the talk about extending his contract is premature.
"Any talk about extending a contract would be premature," Sutton said. "There are steps that you’d want to take before you start talking about that."
Sutton acknowledges that tensions on the board, which had eased during the period before the elections, have gone up in the past few months.
“Certainly the tensions are visible," Sutton said. "But I’m not going to get into who’s respecting who or who’s not respecting who. I don’t think he’s the kind of person who’d leave because he was disrespected or feeling tension. That’s nonsense. What you’re seeing is people settling into their roles and having a lot of pressure.”
Sutton contrasted the current situation with what happened in 2009 when he said he and Carolyn Morrison were able to ease their transition on to the board. But he says the new members, under the intense media spotlight, are immediately facing issues such as the new student assignment plan.
“What you seeing is normal," Sutton said. "In any transition, you have a feeling-out period where you’re trying to figure out your way while trying to cope with a lot of issues. Sometimes the road will be bumpy. I’m optimistic that we can come together.”
For his part, Tata says his interactions with the new board have been "fair and healthy discussion." He also says he's not looking at leaving.
"I love the job and I’d like to stay as long as Wake County would have me,” Tata said.
On the other hand, Superintendent Del Burns was, publicly at least, not talking about resigning before he made his surprise announcement in 2010.