Will the bond issue requested by the Wake County Public School System, the largest school district in North Carolina, fall victim to partisan bickering? The signals as deciphered by WRAL.com seem to point to "Yes."
The rhetoric ratcheted up last week after the Democratic-controlled Board of Education voted to oust Republican Superintendent Tony Tata. Now the Republican-controlled Wake County Board of Commissioners is threatening to reject to bond for placement on the November ballot.
The board members who voted to fire Tata, including Jim Martin, are saying that they weren't motivated by politics and are instead accusing their opponents of trying to turn the move into a partisan wrangle.
"We'll see who's using things for politics," Martin said Thursday. "If you're trying to make threats out of not building enough schools, it strikes me, that's politics."
The district has been taking in between 3,000 and 5,000 students every year, and currently one out of three Wake County schools are overcrowded. The funding raised by the bond was meant to be used for additional building construction. According to WRAL, the district estimates that it needs an additional three school buildings a year in order to keep up with its growing student population.
Joe Tedesco, one of the four board members who voted against firing Tata, isn't convinced by claims that partisan politics had nothing to do with the move. Moreover, as he stated to the News Observer, getting involved in these kinds of major personnel changes at the time when the board should be focused on winning over voters for the $1.2 billion bond was an "epic failure." The fact that the board refused to disclose the decision until two days after the vote, and the reasoning – that Tata was attempting to share some internal district information with parents before the board vetted it – only adds to the confusion.
Wake County Republicans did Tata no favors in calling their faithful to support him by warning that "radical extremists" had taken over the board. Now the GOP has threatened to lead opposition to the bond referendum – because packed-to-the-gills and dilapidated schools will really show those Democrats!
How demoralizing – hmm, another D word – that partisanship has so infested what is supposed to be a nonpartisan body focused on educating children.
Burgetta Eplin Wheeler, writing for the Observer, says that board members should take heed that they don't repeat the mistake that led to the Republican takeover of the school board 20 months ago: the impression that the Democrats were completely out of touch with the needs of the families the district is supposed to be serving. It seemed that students benefited under Tata' guardianship of the district, which made his firing only more confusing, puzzling and disruptive.
So why dump Tata now? Given that the Democrat-held seats are safe for three more years, maybe they hope we'll just forget this outrageous turbulence by then.
I fear, however, that what they've done is lock in the Republican-charted course to Planet Partisanship – from which we will never return.