Wake board saving money in superintendent search?

WAKE COUNTY In February, then-superintendent Del Burns abruptly announced his intention to resign on June 30 -- a few years before his contract expires. He said he could not in good conscience carry out the policies the new majority of the school board wants to implement -- like ending the long standing diversity policy. The board later ended up letting him go.

Currently, the county's chief academic officer is the interim superintendent until the board appoints another superintendent.

ABC11 Eyewitness News has learned that Donna Hargens is being paid an extra $3,000 a month for the last three months for taking on the duties of superintendent, while maintaining her primary position.

According to a copy of her recently signed contract, Hargens' pay will go up by $5,000 a month starting July 1 for her work as interim superintendent. Burns will be off the payroll by the end of June.

Click here to read Hargens' contract

Burns' take home pay was roughly $22,500 a month according to School Board Chair Ron Margiotta.

"Having Hargens perform the extra duties while we search for a new superintendent will save us $17,500 a month," he said. "Over a few months that'll help cover the cost of hiring a search firm to conduct the national search that should quiet our critics."

But critics of the board say they shouldn't be spending $80,000 or more on the search, pointing out that money could be spent on saving jobs that were cut in the budget crisis.

"This board has wasted millions upon millions of dollars," said Yevonne Brannon of the Greater Schools in Wake Coalition.

Brannon says the school board should keep its membership with the North Carolina School Boards Association, because it offers to conduct candidate searches. The membership fee and the superintendent search would've cost $42,000 total according to information obtained by ABC11.

"The state association doesn't do a lot for us, their legislative agenda is somewhat out of touch with what we're looking for in our system," Margiotta said. "I went through a search with the NCSBA and there was an awful lot to be desired. They're restricted to within the state of North Carolina, they don't do any screening down of candidates. We've opened up the door for someone other than an educator to at least be considered for the position."

However, members of Wake's board minority call the decision a major mistake.

"I think it's a terrible idea," School Board Member Keith Sutton said. "I think it absolutely stinks quite frankly. It's just ridiculous. I don't know how we as a board decide not to join what is essentially our trade association that's like the city of Raleigh or any of the municipalities not being a part of the League of Municipalities."

Sutton says the association not only conducts superintendent searches, but it also serves as a lobbyist for school boards in front of state lawmakers, members of Congress and is an advocate in the court system.

The Wake County school board had been a member of the association since its inception back in the 1930s.

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