News: Quick Takes

Squabbling between State Board of Education and state superintendent continues

CJ file photo
CJ file photo

Can’t we all just get along?

The relationship between the State Board of Education and State Superintendent Mark Johnson continues to be dysfunctional after the board objected to a provision in recent legislation.

The General Assembly passed House Bill 374, which contains a small provision repealing two state board policies that, Section 27(a) stated, are “inconsistent with laws affirmed by the North Carolina Supreme Court … that grant direct supervision of the Department of Public Instruction to the Superintendent of Public Instruction.”

In a statement released Monday, State Board Chairman Bill Cobey said Johnson sought the legislation to expand his power.

“Instead of engaging with the board, the superintendent and his staff immediately sought new legislation from the General Assembly,” Cobey wrote on behalf of the board. “This new legislation was designed to expand the superintendent’s role in ways that disregard the constitutional principles that the Supreme Court reaffirmed just days earlier.”

Cobey and the board claim H.B 374 conflicts with the state Supreme Court’s ruling.

“Unfortunately, however, when presented with the soard’s invitation to cooperate, the superintendent turned to the General Assembly for new, top-down decision-making powers that would imperil our public school system,” Cobey wrote.

The relationship between the state board and Johnson has been fragile since the General Assembly passed House Bill 17 during a 2016 special legislative session. The bill transferred power from the state board to Johnson, including the authority to manage the state’s $10 billion education budget. Johnson also would have gained more oversight in senior staffing decisions and managing hundreds of contracts.

The state board argued H.B. 17 violated the N.C. Constitution and took the issue to court, but last month the N.C. Supreme Court upheld the law in 6-0 ruling.

Both sides claimed victory, even though the court ruled that H.B 17 didn’t infringe on the state board’s constitutional role to “generally supervise and administer the public school system.”

Johnson released a statement after the ruling saying he was looking forward to moving on from the lawsuit.

Cobey sent Johnson a letter June 13 expressing hope that Johnson and the board could work together now that litigation was behind them.

“Unified advocacy on issues where we align will amplify our voices, and a willingness to listen to each other when we do not is vital to the fulfillment of our constitutional commitments,” Cobey wrote.

H.B 374 seems to threaten that opportunity for reconciliation.

Lindsey Wakely, chief of staff and legal counsel to Johnson, responding to Cobey’s latest comments said, “the state of North Carolina and Mark Johnson won. Cobey lost.”

“The Supreme Court of North Carolina unanimously and clearly ruled against Chairman Bill Cobey’s lawsuit,” she wrote. “Despite losing his lawsuit, Chairman Cobey appears determined to ignore the will of both the General Assembly and the Supreme Court of North Carolina and continue to waste taxpayer dollars on his frivolous lawsuit.”