Lawmakers: State board, superintendent should 'get going,' choose leader for struggling schools
Posted January 27
Raleigh, N.C. — The state's top education leaders still have not tapped someone to lead the turnaround of North Carolina's lowest-performing schools, more than six months after the position was created.
Lawmakers told WRAL News this week that the State Board of Education and state superintendent need to "get going" and work together, despite their ongoing court battle over who has the ultimate authority over North Carolina's education bureaucracy.
"We’ve got kids that desperately need help. We’ve got to get going," said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, who helped design the state's Achievement School District.
More than 50 people from across the country have applied to be superintendent of the new school district, which will oversee some of the lowest-performing schools in the state. But education leaders say a court case over a law that shifts power from the board to superintendent has left that potential hire in limbo.
Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, says the state board "had several months to make a hiring decision" before lawmakers passed House Bill 17 in December. The board filed suit to challenge the law, and the court agreed to a temporary restraining order to prevent it from taking effect.
"Because there is now a constitutional question on who has the authority to make these kinds of decisions, our hope is that the board will work with Superintendent Johnson to select a candidate that has his approval," Barefoot said in a statement.
Horn, who serves as chairman of the House Education Committee, said state education leaders need to have more urgency about the matter.
"We need to get moving," he said. "Like everything new, we’re going to make some mistakes. Some people are going to crucify us for those mistakes. Some people are going to say, 'OK, you made a mistake. Let’s straighten it out.'"
The goal of the new Achievement School District is to take five of the state's lowest-performing public elementary schools and put them under new management. Outside entities, such as charter school operators, will take control of the schools and supervise, manage and run them with the goal of improving their performance. A superintendent will help select the schools and oversee them.
When lawmakers passed a bill last summer creating the Achievement School District, they asked Lt. Gov. Dan Forest to create a committee to help choose a superintendent. The committee interviewed applicants last fall and was supposed to make a recommendation to the State Board of Education, which would have the final say over who was chosen.
However, the committee has still not recommended a candidate, despite multiple assurances that they were close to making a decision.
A spokesman for Forest's office said earlier this month that the committee had narrowed the field of applicants but that no official recommendation had been brought to the state board for a vote.
"Now that law is tied up in the courts, we are unsure who is supposed to make that decision," spokesman Jamey Falkenbury said.
This week, Falkenbury said, they were still "trying to figure it all out" and suggested WRAL News contact lawmakers and the State Board of Education "to ask them what their expectations are." He later emailed to say that they were "talking to a few stakeholders to see what the next steps should be."
State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey said this week that the board "has not had a discussion on this topic." However, an attorney for the state board said, because of the temporary restraining order on the new law, the board still has the power to make the final decision about who is hired for the position.
Despite the temporary restraining order, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson plans to be involved in the process. His spokesman said he "is working with the board to fill the position as soon as possible."
"This is one of many important decisions that the State Board’s costly litigation has placed in limbo," said Jonathan Felts, transition chairman for the superintendent. "But I am sure the board must have taken that into account before filing their lawsuit."
Horn said he is hopeful the state board and superintendent can resolve their differences over who should be in power.
"I’m going to remain hopeful that we can resolve this without court intervention and move forward because I’m an optimist and because I know all the people (involved in the lawsuit)," Horn said. "In my view, I don’t think they’re as far apart as some people characterize them. Maybe I’m being naïve, quite possibly. But I’m an old sales guy. I negotiate settlements. That’s what I do."