The clear MO of the Wake County Gang of Five

The clear MO of the Wake County Gang of Five

- in Fitzsimon File

After the third meeting of the new Wake County School Board Tuesday, one thing is clear about the Gang of Five that now runs the board.  The democratic process will not stand in the way of their single-minded pursuit of their ideological agenda.

The board voted 5-4 to potentially reassign thousands of students next year by changing the year-round school assignment procedure, ending what the new board majority calls mandatory year-round schools. The vote came with little debate and no public notice. Just after the meeting began, Gang of Five member Deborah Prickett moved to add the resolution to the agenda and the board agreed by the inevitable 5-4 vote.

Year-round schools were expanded in the system as part of a deal between the school board and the Republican-led County Commission in 2006 to keep the size of a proposed school bond issue under a billion dollars by increasing the capacity of existing school buildings.

Now many of the same forces who were part of the deal to use year-round schools to save money are railing against them. (Not Margiotta. He even fought the smaller bond that the voters overwhelmingly approved.)

The action on year-round schools was taken, as several members of the public pointed out, even though the proposal didn’t address the cost of the change, where the school system would find the money, and what happens if schools are overcrowded.   The Gang of Five couldn’t answer those questions, but approved the change anyway.

The vote seems to make a survey approved earlier in the day by a committee of the full board irrelevant, though the process used to approve the survey is also enlightening.

Two weeks ago a committee of all board members decided that the best way to survey parents about year-round schools, also an idea pushed by the new majority, was to use a combination of online responses and traditional mail to make sure all parents had an opportunity to respond.

The committee approved a timeline for the survey that would allow all parents to have input and bring the results to the board for consideration in April, too late to make any changes in student assignments for the 2010-2011 school year.

When the committee met again Tuesday, the timeline had shifted and the survey will now be online only, unless a parent calls a school and asks to be sent a hard copy.

Apparently after last month’s meeting Board Chair Ron Margiotta directed the staff to speed up the process.  The survey will now be finished by January 22 and presented to the board in February, theoretically in time to affect next fall’s student assignments.

The change caught several board members off guard, including Kevin Hill, who asked if he had missed a meeting somewhere.  Not a meeting, just a unilateral decision by Margiotta to circumvent what the committee had decided.

Then there is the matter of Thomas Farr, a Raleigh attorney with close ties to the Republican Party. The new board approved a resolution at its first meeting in December to hire Farr to audit the board’s current legal expenses and provide additional legal advice.

Margiotta negotiated on his own with Farr, whose former wife led a small rally in support of the Gang of Five before the last meeting.  The board was scheduled to vote Tuesday on what Margiotta said he negotiated on New Year’s Eve, to hire Farr at $250 an hour, significantly more than the amount charged by the current counsel, Ann Majestic of the firm Tharrington Smith in Raleigh.

The Gang of Five doesn’t seem to trust Majestic, who has served the board tirelessly for years, because her firm is headed by a prominent Democrat, Wade Smith. 

What better way to show that there’s a fresh, new, bipartisan spirit than to hire the former attorney for the North Carolina Republican Party, handpicked for the board by “prominent citizens,” according to Gang of Fiver John Tedesco.

Several board members have asked why the board should spend scarce resources on another attorney and why the audit wasn’t put out for bid, questions that have never been answered.

The vote on Farr’s contract was delayed at Tuesday’s meeting after a mix-up about where it was listed on the agenda, which Margiotta said meant somebody was up to something, bringing to mind a pot and a kettle.  He plans to call a special meeting of the board to take up Farr’s contract.

The mix-up was the only good news Tuesday, providing more time to discuss Farr’s contract and why his services are needed.

But don’t expect many answers as the grand, orchestrated plan to take Wake County back 50 years continues—fairness, common sense, and the democratic process be damned.