News: CJ Exclusives

State superintendent responds to State Board of Education lawsuit

In court filing, Johnson says state board is under control of General Assembly and lawmakers can alter board's functions

State Superintendent Mark Johnson just before making opening remarks at a Jan. 5, 2017 meeting of the North Carolina State Board of Education. (CJ photo by Kari Travis)
State Superintendent Mark Johnson just before making opening remarks at a Jan. 5, 2017 meeting of the North Carolina State Board of Education. (CJ photo by Kari Travis)

RALEIGH — Conflict between the State Board of Education, the state superintendent of public instruction, and the General Assembly may not be resolved anytime soon.

The rub started last year when lawmakers stripped the board of some of its powers, handing them over to newly elected Superintendent Mark Johnson, a Republican who replaced former June Atkinson, a Democrat.

Board members in December 2016 filed a lawsuit against Johnson and the General Assembly, saying that the legislation, House Bill 17, was unconstitutional.

The lawsuit is on hold until June.

On April 12, Johnson filed a legal response to the lawsuit asking the court to decide without a trial.

“In its amended complaint the State Board stakes an aggressive claim to inviolable authority over essentially every aspect of North Carolina’s public schools,” Johnson’s brief states.

“This claim, however, is based upon a misrepresentation of … the Constitution of North Carolina, because it ignores that the people, in creating the State Board, made it wholly subservient and auxiliary to the General Assembly.”

But state board Chairman Bill Cobey in December told Carolina Journal H.B. 17 isn’t constitutionally sound.

“We [don’t like] the fact that we would have nothing to say about the top 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.”

The case in now in the hands of the three-judge panel appointed in January by Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin.