Controversy after Wake Schools announces new superintendent

Wake County Schools Superintendent Dr. James Merrill
June 19, 2013 3:52:05 PM PDT
Wake County Schools has a new superintendent, and also a nasty controversy.

The school board chairman is lashing out over leaks to the media. While Republicans on the Democratically-controlled board are second- guessing the choice of Dr. Jim Merrill to run the state's largest school district.

"The new superintendent is coming in at a time of tremendous turmoil," said N.C. State Political Science Professor Andy Taylor. "There's no doubt about it."

Just seconds into his new job, Merrill was facing his first political dust-up as Wake's new superintendent.

"There needs to be some accountability," said School Board Chairman Keith Sutton.

Sutton expressed his anger at whoever on the board revealed the panel's intention to hire Merrill before the official announcement. Sutton is angry about former Board Chairman Ron Margiotta's recent media interviews leaking Merrill as the board's top pick.

"I think it was just common knowledge out there," said Margiotta. "Anyone you spoke to knew that Merrill was the choice."

Margiotta insists he received no inside information, but Sutton is ordering district lawyers to explore new ethics rules for current board members.

"To penalize to the fullest extent, possibly maybe even including some kind of fine," said Sutton.

Meantime, Republicans on the board are openly second-guessing the selection by the Democratic majority.

Before leaving to lead the schools in Virginia Beach, Merrill served 16 years at Wake County School headquarters. Republicans suggest bringing him back is a step in the wrong direction.

"I'm deeply concerned that some have such a strong desire to turn all they perceive we once were in Wake, that they are missing out on an opportunity to be all that we can become," said board member John Tedesco.

At a school system where education and politics clash more often than most, Merrill becomes the third Wake superintendent in as many years.

"I have and always will respect individual board members opinions and beliefs," said Merrill.

"There's clearly great division among the county's residents about the future direction that the schools need to go in," said Taylor. "This was a very, very important decision and this is going to be a very, very important superintendent for better or worse."

Even with all of the negative back and forth, both Republicans and Democrats on the school board are pledging to put their best foot forward in working with Merrill.

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