Morrison leads protest over hiring of retired general to lead Wake Schools
The Wake County School Board’s hiring of a retired brigadier general with limited educational experience as its next school superintendent is drawing sharp opposition led by board member Carolyn Morrison.
Morrison, a former Wake principal and former director of the Division of Education at Peace College, says the board’s new hire, Anthony J. Tata, has scant qualifications for the job.
“It’s going to be a huge learning curve for this man,” Morrison told the North Carolina Independent News. “I’m sure he’s well-trained to kill. I wanted someone who was well-trained to educate.”
Morrison issued a statement in opposition to Tata and said she has received support in e-mails and from people who stop her to thank her for voting against Tata, who was hired Dec. 23 by a 4-2 vote.
“I’ve gotten quite a lot of response,” Morrison said. “I’ve got people who are stopping me on the street and saying, ‘Thank you for your vote. I was horrified.’”
Morrison said she was also alarmed by Tata’s response to questions about promoting diversity in the schools, an issue that has split the board and the community for a year.
She said Tata, the chief operating officer of the District of Columbia Public Schools, said D.C. schools do well despite high concentrations of minority and low-income students in its classrooms.
“This man said he was OK with segregated schools,” Morrison said.
Efforts to reach Tata were unsuccessful.
Tata, 51, was hired during a board meeting called with 48-hours notice. Two other board members, Dr. Anne McLaurin and Keith Sutton missed the meeting due to the short notice.
“He will be the CEO of a $1.2 billion business,” said GOP school board member John Tedesco said in a report by The News & Observer of Raleigh. “There are few and far between the number of leaders of his caliber who have entered Wake County.”
Kevin Hill, another board member with extensive experience as a teacher and principal, joined Morrison in voting against Tata. He said hiring a non-traditional superintendent was “usually a last gasp thing” by failing school systems. He told NCIN, “I don’t feel a school system that has been functioning as well as Wake County needed to do that.”
Hill said he will give Tata “100 percent support,” but he expects debate at the next school board meeting over Tata’s qualifications, how he was hired and the new superintendent’s plans to continue as a conservative blogger — for a group of sites run by Andrew Breitbart — and a Fox News commentator.
Tata’s only education experience was as the COO of the District of Columbia Public Schools for the past 18 months. He is also a 2009 graduate of the The Broad Superintendents Academy.
Previous to entering education, Tata, a West Point graduate, served 28 years in the military. He last Army post was as the deputy director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Organization for the United States Military.
Morrison and Hill object to the hiring process, particularly its lack of transparency. Hill said the printed information they received on candidates had to be turned back in to protect the anonymity of the candidates. “There was more security than when Obama came,” Hill said.
The vote was rushed just before Christmas because members of the board’s majority said Tata’s name had been leaked and they feared it could jeopardize his accepting the job. Morrison said the urgency seemed to have no grounds because Tata, unlike some other candidates, had not requested anonymity.
While withholding the names of the candidates, Morrison and Hill described a hiring process that began with a national search by the executive search firm of Heidrick & Struggles, Inc. of Chicago. Once the search was narrowed to 10 candidates, the board viewed video interviews with each of them. Three finalists appeared in person in a closed-board session in late November.
Morrison said she was bewildered by the three finalists for the job of leading the state’s largest school system. One was a college professor and former superintendent who said he wasn’t sure he wanted the job. Another, she said, “had issues” that involved a claim of misappropriation of funds of which he was cleared. The third was Tata, a one-star general with less than two-years of experience in education.
“We paid $89,000 plus expenses to have that search firm work with us. I don’t think we got our money’s worth, frankly,” Morrison said.
Both Hill and Morrison have been in the minority of board members who oppose the conservative majority’s decision to discard a school assignment policy that promoted in diversity. The superintendent’s opening was created when the previous superintendent Del Burns resigned in protest of the change. The 5-4 majority favors assigning students entirely based on where they live regardless of whether it creates high poverty and high minority schools in poor areas.