Merrill to be Wake’s Third Superintendent in as Many Years

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Wake County now has its third superintendent in three years. The school board voted Tuesday to hire Jim Merrill, a veteran administrator of Wake County Public Schools and a career educator, for the job.

With that many superintendents in such a short time, we felt this would be a good time to review the recent history of politics on the board that has been featured from the New York Times to Comedy Central’s Colbert Report.

Jim Merrill, the new superintendent of Wake County Public School System, fields questions from the press immediately following his appointment at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Monica Chen

Jim Merrill, the new superintendent for the Wake County Public School System, fields questions from the press immediately following his appointment at Tuesday’s board meeting.

The recent troubles at Wake County Public Schools started around 2006, when parents sued the system for assigning students to year-round schools. The solution was instituted to cope with rapid population growth that had led to overcrowding in the schools.

At the time, the school system had been using an assignment plan based on income to promote diversity in its schools. The lawsuits, and the subsequent political fights that resulted, have demolished that concept’s implementation in Wake, and the school system has been working toward a new solution ever since.

2006: Storm brewing. The school system assigned year-round schools. Parents sued, saying their children couldn’t be moved to year-round schools without consent. The school system instituted consent, but many families rejected year-round schools anyway, leading to fewer students attending year-round schools while traditional schools remained overcrowded.

128,072 students are enrolled in 147 Schools for the 2006-2007 school year.

2007-2008: The lawsuits continued, with one court saying the school system does not have to ask for consent.

134,002 students were enrolled in 153 Schools for the 2007-2008 school year.

2009: In October, new school board members, all Republican, were elected to office on platforms opposing mandatory year-round schools. They were Chris Malone, Debra Goldman, Deborah Prickett and John Tedesco.

The new board members formed a majority with then-chair Ron Margiotta, and immediately did away with the income-based reassignment plan. The vote was 5-4.

The board members were: Ron Margiotta, Chair; Debra Goldman, Vice Chair; Kevin Hill; Anne McLaurin; Chris Malone; Carolyn Morrison; Deborah Prickett; John Tedesco; Keith Sutton.

139,599 students are enrolled in 159 Schools for the 2009-2010 school year.

2010: In February, Superintendent Del Burns resigned. He had been with Wake schools since 2006.

In March the school board did away with the income diversity policy. The move prompted protests, which led to arrests, and the drama in Wake began attracting negative national media attention.

Also in March, Chuck Dulaney, assistant superintendent for growth and planning, retired. He had been there for four years.

In December, Anthony Tata, a military veteran with little experience in education, was named superintendent.

143,289 students were enrolled in 163 Schools for the 2010-2011 school year.

2011: The war of words continued between board members and then-Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, who said the school board is “way off track.” In response, Tedesco went on Fox Business News to defend the board.

All the drama led The Colbert Report to poke fun at the school board. On a more serious note, it also attracted the attention of federal investigators, who looked into possible civil rights violations, and at one point even the USDA.

Tata spearheads the creation of a new reassignment plan, which took in parent comments at public forums and online. Parents showed they preferred their children to attend schools close to home.

In October, the new reassignment plan was unveiled to the school board and to the public.

But, in October, power dynamics on the board changed again.

New Democratic party-backed candidates were voted into office. They were: Jim Martin, Christine Kushner and Susan Evans. Evans ousted Ron Margiotta in District 8. Kevin Hill, an incumbent, held onto his seat in a run-off against Republican Heather Losurdo in District 3. Democrat Keith Sutton also held his seat.

The other board members were: John Tedesco, Deborah Prickett, Bill Fletcher, Chris Malone.

By the end of 2011, it seemed that the new reassignment plan was being revised and tempers had calmed a bit, either from satisfaction or exhaustion, or both. Parents were giving input on a “choice-based assignment plan,” which allowed parents to rank schools they preferred their children to go to, based on proximity to their neighborhood. No child would be reassigned again once they began their education in that school.

143,289 students were enrolled in 163 Schools for the 2011-2012 school year.

2012: In January, parents were still expressing concerns, but the new plan was moving forward with the first round of the selection process.

In April, the new reassignments were released. In March and April, the second round of the selection process went underway. There were more protests by frustrated parents, and concerns were raised by business owners and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane about the reassignment conflict’s effect on worker recruitment.

Board members clashed once again in September over the fate of Tony Tata, who was fired as superintendent by the technically non-partisan board along party lines.

The following people wanted Tata to go: Christine Kushner, Kevin Hill, Keith Sutton, Jim Martin and Susan Evans, the newcomer who had ousted Ron Margiotta.

149,508 students are enrolled in 169 schools for the 2012-2013 school year.

2013: In April, interim superintendent Stephen Gainey left for Randolph County School System.

Currently, the board members are: Tom Benton, District 1; John Tedesco, District 2; Kevin Hill, District 3; Keith Sutton, District 4; Jim Martin, District 5; Christine Kushner, District 6; Deborah Prickett, District 7; Susan Evans, District 8; Bill Fletcher, District 9.

As it stands now, John Tedesco and Deborah Prickett are the only board members remaining from the 2009 elected board that did away with the old income disparity reassignment plan.

Tedesco and Prickett also were the only dissenting votes at the appointment of Jim Merrill on Tuesday.

One thought on “Merrill to be Wake’s Third Superintendent in as Many Years

  1. This was the comfortable choice for the board — the return of an old employee and hoping for a return to ‘the way it was’ — and even more comfortable for WCPSS staff who feared the change an outsider, non-educator like Tata forecast. Tata was trained at the Broad Superintendent Academy in San Francisco, which takes successful people from other than education and trains them to think and act outside the box, believing that rising up in a system breeds more of the same. Bringing in someone from outside does shake up the status quo, something that happened to the school board, too. Things will get back to normal now and everyone will be happy.