News: Quick Takes

CJ politics week in review, Feb. 3-7

CJ file photo
CJ file photo

Each week, staff at Carolina Journal looks back at the week in N.C. politics and chooses several interesting, relevant stories you may have missed. Here’s this week’s review:

Contract rules: The State Board of Education is moving forward on efforts to limit the state superintendent’s ability to issue contracts. Board members took issue with how State Superintendent Mark Johnson made an emergency purchase of more than $900,000 for Istation earlier this year. The purchase came after a court declined to take up a contract dispute between Istation and its competitor, Amplify. Johnson failed to consult with the board before making the emergency purchase. Now, the board is considering a policy change that would prevent the state superintendent from issuing contracts of more than $500,000 without state board approval. Only in an emergency situation could the state superintendent issue a contract above the designated amount without the board’s approval, but the state superintendent would have to give the board chair prior notice. Now, the state superintendent can issue contracts for less than $1 million without board approval. 

Charter school report: The State Board of Education voted 7-3 to approve the 2019 Annual Charter School Report. The report includes data on charter school performance and characteristics. SBE member Jill Camnitz, SBE chair Eric Davis, and SBE vice chair Alan Duncan voted not to approve the report. Some board members believed the report failed to include all the necessary information about charter schools, including demographic comparisons between charters and district schools. The report should include information on how charter schools affect traditional public schools, Camnitz said during the Feb. 5 board meeting. Duncan shared that desire, but suggested convening a group to explore the impact instead of having the Office of Charter Schools do the work. 

Trogdon retires: James Trogdon, Department of Transportation secretary, is retiring at the end of February. The news comes after the agency has struggled with back-to-back hurricanes and Map Act litigation leading to a budget crunch. Eric Boyette, currently secretary of the Department of Information Technology, will replace Trogdon. State Treasurer Dale Folwell had previously called for Trogdon’s resignation. It wasn’t personal, Folwell said in a statement after Trogdon’s announcement. “It was, however, about the need for change at the top of an organization that has lost its financial way,” Folwell said. The treasurer’s office looks forward to working with Boyette to bring DOT out of the multibillion-dollar ditch that it has dug over the last 16 months, Folwell said. Trogdon plans to return to the private sector. 

DIT changes: As Boyette moves to the Department of Transportation, he’ll be succeeded by Tracy Doaks, now chief deputy state chief information officer at DIT. The news comes as DIT is overseeing a contract dispute between two competing K-3 reading assessment companies, Amplify and Istation.

PBA endorsement: The Police Benevolent Association has endorsed Rep. Holly Grange, R-New Hanover, for governor. After interviewing Grange, Gov. Roy Cooper, and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, the PBA settled on giving the Republican representative the endorsement. “Holly Grange has a proven track record of service and leadership to our country and state,” Division President Randy Byrd said in a news release. “In a time of career politicians, she brings a refreshing resume to this race that challenges the status quo.” Grange said, “I will always fight for policies that ensure our law enforcement officers have the tools they need to protect our communities and return home safe to their families after every shift.” 

Common core: The Department of Public Instruction will re-examine Common Core standards, Superintendent Mark Johnson announced Feb. 6. “Opposition to Common Core from educators and parents is what I hear about the most across our state,” Johnson said in a news release. “I strongly disagreed with the State Board of Education’s decision to keep Common Core in place in 2017.” The decision whether to use Common Core standards is ultimately up to the State Board of Education, but Johnson is calling on board members to consider removing the standard and replacing it with something new.