@NCCapitol

Judges delay law shifting control of North Carolina schools

Posted September 14

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, left, and State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey try to work together amid an ongoing power struggle over control of North Carolina's public schools.

— Control over about $10 billion a year in taxpayer spending and the jobs of some state education workers remained unchanged Thursday after North Carolina judges agreed to delay a new state law.

A three-judge panel gave lawyers for the State Board of Education until October 16 to tell an appeals court that shifting power to the elected state schools superintendent is unconstitutional and that the law should be scrapped.

The same three judges ruled in July that the law was valid, a decision that favored new Republican Superintendent Mark Johnson. The Republican-led legislature boosted Johnson's powers weeks after he was elected last November. The GOP-majority state school board wants to keep the status quo and its upper hand.

Johnson's lawyer said it's time to stop delaying the law's implementation and let the elected superintendent be in the driver's seat of the public school system that educates 1.5 million children statewide.

"We would like for our client to govern," attorney Philip Isley said. "Let's see what happens."

But the risk of disrupting operations at the core of the state's education system before the state Supreme Court ultimately decides the case is too great, the state school board's attorney said.

"Let's do this calmly, slowly and give the appellate courts a chance to rule and make the final resolution of this issue," Andrew Erteschik said. "In a case of this size and magnitude, a 'well, let's just see what happens' approach is not what's best for our 1.5 million school children."

The case hinges on the state constitution declaring that the state school board "shall supervise and administer the free public school system and the educational funds provided for its support ... and shall make all needed rules and regulations ... subject to laws enacted by the General Assembly."

The superintendent's job is described only as "the secretary and chief administrative officer of the State Board of Education." But the constitution allows legislators to pass laws that alter the school board's authority, and that's what it did with the new measure, Isley said.

The law would change the superintendent from a post that for years has amounted to little more than a cheerleader for public education into one having a substantial domain of his own.

The law would give Johnson authority to administer funds and sign contracts for the operation of the state Department of Public Instruction and to manage hundreds of jobs in the education bureaucracy.

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Follow Emery P. Dalesio on Twitter at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio. His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/emery%20dalesio

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