The General Assembly’s attempt to grant additional authority to North Carolina’s new school superintendent, Mark Johnson, is likely to face a constitutional challenge from the State Board of Education if the measure becomes law, board Chairman Bill Cobey told Carolina Journal.

House Bill 17 would strip much of the State Board of Education’s authority over the Department of Public Instruction, instead recognizing the new superintendent as the organization’s administrative head. The bill passed the House Thursday night and is set for consideration Friday by the Senate.

Under Article IX of the N.C. Constitution, the SBE’s role is to “supervise and administer the free public school system, and the educational funds provided for its support. …” The superintendent is “the secretary and chief administrative officer of the State Board of Education.”

H.B. 17 would shift many supervisory duties to the superintendent. For example, the legislation would allow Johnson to hire and fire SBE staffers, and also would allow him to select the SBE’s local superintendent and student advisors, a task that’s now left to the governor. Johnson defeated incumbent Democrat June Atkinson in the November election.

A portion of the legislation also would allow Johnson to appoint the new superintendent of North Carolina’s Achievement School District and would not need the approval of the SBE.

The bill, introduced Dec. 14, has stirred more controversy in the middle of an already contentious special session at the state legislature, Cobey said.

“I had a hint [a couple of days prior] that this might be coming, but no one in the General Assembly conferred with me, or with anyone else on the board that I know of,” Cobey told CJ. “You would think that they would confer with us, but they didn’t, and it makes for a very difficult situation with a new superintendent coming in. Frankly, if I was the new superintendent, I wouldn’t want them to do this because it complicates the job.”

While Cobey doesn’t disagree with every piece of the legislation, he finds most of the measures problematic, especially one that allows the superintendent, rather than the SBE, to select staffers that will serve the state board, he said.

“We [don’t like] the fact that we would have nothing to say about the top of administrators in the department,” Cobey said. “We believe we have the right to determine that, since the superintendent is our chief administrative officer, and we are charged in the constitution with supervising and administering a free public school system.”

North Carolina’s constitution also states that the SBE “shall make all needed rules and regulations in relation thereto, subject to laws enacted by the General Assembly.”

However, the SBE is on strong footing to challenge the constitutionality of the bill should it pass the state senate and be signed into law, Cobey said.

“I anticipate that the local education agencies and the school board will not like this, and I think that there’s a misconception that they will,” he concluded. “Yes, we’re a service organization, we have to implement laws and rules, but [our schools] really depend on us being competent from day-to-day. This threatens the competency of the agency.”