Bill would give more power to new NC superintendent, reduce role of education board

Posted December 15, 2016

State Superintendent Mark Johnson

— A bill lawmakers are considering Thursday would give more power to the incoming Republican state superintendent and reduce the role of the State Board of Education in some major decisions affecting the Department of Public Instruction.

Republican Mark Johnson ousted longtime State Superintendent June Atkinson, a Democrat, in November's election. He will take over in January.

Republican lawmakers crafted House Bill 17, which would shift more power to Johnson and deem him the "administrative head" of the state education department. The current law says some of the superintendent's duties are "subject to the discretion, control and approval of the State Board of Education," but that language has been removed in several places in the proposed bill.

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The bill would also give Johnson more flexibility in managing the state's education budget, more authority to dismiss senior level employees and the ability to choose the leader of the new Achievement School District, which will oversee some of the lowest-performing schools in the state.

Neither Johnson nor Atkinson could be immediately reached for comment.

Among the proposed changes in the bill:

  • The state superintendent will be the head of the Department of Public Instruction. In the current law, the State Board of Education is the head of the department.
  • All administrative and supervisory employees appointed to the department, including staff serving the State Board of Education, will be "under the control and management" of the state superintendent, who may terminate them in accordance with state law. The current law says those positions are subject to the approval of the state board, which can terminate them "for cause." That language has been removed. In an interview with WRAL News last month, Johnson said he hadn't yet thought about how he wants to handle staffing. He wanted to meet with Atkinson, state school board members and other leaders within the department before sharing any plans.
  • The superintendent will be limited to 70 exempt policymaking positions and 70 exempt managerial positions. In this section of the proposed bill, the words "State Board of Education" are crossed out and replaced with "Superintendent of Public Instruction."
  • The superintendent will appoint the head of the new Achievement School District, which will serve students in some of the state's lowest-performing schools. In the current law, the state board is in charge of choosing the ASD leader based on recommendations from a selection advisory committee. The committee, appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, has been interviewing candidates the past several months and is expected to make a recommendation to the state board any day now. More than 50 people have applied for the job.
  • The leader of the Achievement School District will report directly to and serve at the pleasure of the superintendent. The superintendent will also determine the ASD leader's salary. In the current law, the state board is in control of those things.
  • The state superintendent will be responsible for administering funds for the department and entering into contracts for the operation of the department. In the current law, that is "subject to the discretion, control and approval of the State Board of Education." That language has been removed.
  • The state superintendent will direct and control all matters related to the direct supervision and administration of the public school system. The current law says the state school board will determine what matters the superintendent will manage.
  • The state superintendent will manage funds received as grants from nongovernmental sources in support of public education. The current law says the fund is to be managed by the state board.
  • The state superintendent will appoint a local school superintendent and two high school student advisors to the State Board of Education. The current law allows the governor to appoint them.

Under the State Personnel Act, the exempt positions currently within the Department of Public Instruction are as follows:

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Employees who can be dismissed with the approval of both the state superintendent and the State Board of Education:

Deputy state superintendent
Chief of staff
Chief information officer
Chief academic & digital learning officer
Chief financial officer
Achievement School District superintendent (position has not been filled yet)
Director, communication & information services
Director, office of charter schools
Director, human resources

Employees who report solely to the State Board of Education (without superintendent involvement):

Executive director, State Board of Education
Director, State Board of Education operations

Employees who can be dismissed solely by the state superintendent for any reason:

Special assistant/correspondence
Senior policy adviser
Special assistant/scheduler (current employee holds priority re-employment rights)

Employees who can be dismissed by the state superintendent, subject to board review:

Legislative affairs program director
Director, career & technical education
Director, exceptional children
Director, N.C. School for the Deaf
Director, educator effectiveness
Director, digital learning
Director, curriculum & instruction
Director, financial services

Employees who can be dismissed by the state superintendent, subject to board review, but who have "one-time" priority re-employment rights, meaning they have priority over external candidates for a vacant state government position for a period of 12 months, or until satisfied, equal to the same grade at their most recent position:

Director, N.C. Virtual Public School
Director, Residential Schools
Director, federal program monitoring
Director, testing & accountability
Director, school support
Director, Office of Early Learning

Employees who can be dismissed from their current positions, subject to board review, but who have "mandatory" re-employment rights within DPI, meaning they have a mandated right to a job at the same grade and salary as their most recent positions, including all legislated salary increases.

Director, data, research & federal policy
Director, technology services/assistant CIO
Director, school business


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  • Anna Temple Dec 15, 7:32 a.m.
    user avatar

    The government of my country snubs honest simplicity, but fondles artistic villainy, and I think I might have developed into a very capable pickpocket if I had remained in the public service a year or two.
    - Mark Twain

  • Steve Moore Dec 15, 6:01 a.m.
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    " In the first place, God made fools. That was for practise. Then he made school boards."
    Mark Twain.