The costs of the ideological crusade

The costs of the ideological crusade

- in Fitzsimon File

The damage to Wake County from the efforts of the new resegregationist Gang of Five majority on the board of education became quantifiable Tuesday, as the taxpayers lost $15 million and the community lost the dedicated leadership of School Superintendent Del Burns, whose conscience wouldn't let him stay on as the nationally recognized system was dismantled.

Burns announced his resignation at the beginning of Tuesday's meeting, a move that startled the board and the audience and prompted Gang of Five Chair Ron Margiotta to call for an immediate recess.

Burns didn't say much in his statement but his point was clear as he cited the direction and the decisions of the board and that he "could not in good conscience continue to serve as superintendent."

Board member Ann McLaurin said Burns' decision was a terrible loss for the schools and the community and told reporters that Burns simply couldn't go along with the Gang of Five's priorities, which include abolishing the system's national recognized diversity policy and returning to resegregated schools.

Margiotta said he hoped the new board's decisions were not the reason Burns is leaving and even said he might try to talk him into staying. Gang of Fiver John Tedesco said he had hoped Burns would stay and "work on building a new vision for students and education in our community."

But Burns had no interest in a vision even Tedesco now admits will create as many as 20 high-poverty and overwhelmingly segregated schools in a system where no schools are currently failing.

Surely Tedesco and Margiotta can see through their crocodile tears and understand that a man who dedicated 34 years of his life to improving public education would not want to end his career watching the school system he loves fall victim to an ideological crusade.

The leaders of one advocacy group that supports the Gang of Five said "everyone's best interest is served" by Burns' resignation, an odd statement considering that 94.5 percent of the parents who responded to a recent survey said they were satisfied with their child's school.

Maybe it's time to call the new majority the Gang of Five and a Half Percent.

Fittingly, after Burns' resignation, the board displayed its arrogance and poor judgment, voting 5-4 to waste $15 million of taxpayer money by abandoning the proposed site of a new high school in Northeast Raleigh, which also means hundreds of high school students will spend another two years in trailers while a new site is prepared.

Abandoning the site and all the work to prepare it was a campaign promise of the four Gang of Fivers elected last fall and they blindly stuck with it, despite a recommendation otherwise by a group of 19 experts from the city, county, and state formed to evaluate the proposed site and alternatives suggested by new board members.

The numbers presented by the group's report and the staff of the school system were clear. The current site of the new high school may not be perfect, but it would take $15 million and at least two more years to build the school somewhere else.

Confronted with the numbers again Tuesday, the Gang of Five simply refused to believe them, challenging the credibility and at times the integrity of the staff, and chose to plow ahead with a new site anyway.

Ann McLaurin pointed out that $15 million is a lot of money in a budget crisis when schools can't afford textbooks and teacher assistants.

But that doesn't matter. This is a crusade remember, not a reasoned approach to making the best decisions for Wake County.

That was clearer than ever Tuesday when the people of the county lost not only $15 million, but something far more important, the steady and dedicated leadership of a superintendent who refused to be part of destroying 30 years of progress.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.