Local Politics

Harrison retires as state schools CEO

Posted July 22, 2009

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— Six months after Gov. Beverly Perdue plucked Bill Harrison from Cumberland County Schools to serve as chief executive of North Carolina's public education system, Harrison stepped down abruptly Wednesday, citing the ongoing dispute with the state's elected education superintendent.

"I have spent a great deal of time during the last two days responding to a legal dispute regarding my position as CEO," Harrison wrote in a memo to Department of Public Instruction staff. "Quite frankly, I’ve wasted too many hours on this case – hours I would rather use working with you and education leaders across the state to accomplish the one thing Gov. Perdue asked of me six months ago: reforming our public education system to best serve our children."

A Superior Court judge last Friday ruled that, without a constitutional amendment, Perdue couldn't undermine the authority of Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson by assigning oversight of the state's schools to Harrison.

Atkinson in awkward situation in state government Atkinson calls job fight a distraction

Atkinson sued the state in April, saying voters elected her to run North Carolina's public schools and Harrison's appointment took that responsibility away from her, relegating her to the role of an education ambassador.

Perdue maintained that installing Harrison as schools CEO and as chairman of the State Board of Education would improve accountability and establish a clear line of command within DPI.

After her courtroom victory, Atkinson told WRAL News that "there's room for one person at the top of the organization." She said she planned to meet with Harrison Thursday to discuss his future role.

On her way back from an education conference in Colorado Wednesday evening, Atkinson told WRAL News that she had a friendly phone conversation with Harrison earlier in the day, and that they agreed the fight over the top job at DPI has been a distraction.

"I think his retiring is characteristic of how Dr. Harrison puts public education and our children first," she said. "He and I will put what has happened in the past, and we will move forward for public education and our children."

Harrison's retirement takes effect Aug. 31. He said in a statement that he would continue as chairman of the education board.

"As chairman of the State Board of Education, I want my focus to be on the 1.4 million students in this state, not on a court case. Six months ago, Gov. Perdue asked me to help her transform North Carolina’s public school system, and I will continue to work with her and Superintendent Atkinson to do so," he said.

Harrison was paid $265,000 for his two positions, but officials said he won't collect any salary as education board chairman.

"Dr. Harrison’s decision today to devote his time to leading the State Board of Education exemplifies what I’ve known all along – that his real commitment is not to a title or to a paycheck, but to securing a world class education system for our children," Perdue said in a statement. "During this legal dispute, the focus on our kids has been lost in the courtroom. Dr. Harrison’s move today puts the focus back where it belongs – on the classroom."


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  • bottleworks Jul 23, 2009

    $265,000 is equal to aprox 7.5 teacher jobs....Why wasn't he laid off when the teachers were?!

  • jonathanhowland Jul 23, 2009

    I'm not sure what he means by "retiring" from the position. He was in it for 6 months not 20 years! This isn't a "retirement" it's a "resignation". If he gets any type of retirement package for this speedbump of an administration gaff then someone needs to end up in court explaining why we're throwing money down the drain during the worst recession in history! This is typical political incompetence to their fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of our State!

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Jul 23, 2009

    See ya!

  • Ken D. Jul 23, 2009

    Wouldn't it have been easier if Harrison had simply run for election as superintendent in the first place?

  • 27615 Jul 23, 2009

    The last 6 months wouldn't have been wasted in the courtroom if you didn't make an unconstitutional move.........Mrs. Perdue

  • BT Mom Jul 23, 2009

    Gov, will you appoint me to a position that carries an annual salary of $265K? I don't have a doctorate but I do have common sense and that's a commodity that seems to be sorely lacking in all of NC state government from the governor on down.

  • Wags Jul 23, 2009

    Since he is "retiring" will he get a retirement package from the state for his 6 months of service?

  • oyid Jul 23, 2009

    Geez...got to get out of NC. Why isn't the attorney General looking into this situation. The Governor violated the constitution...no?

  • showed up late Jul 23, 2009

    If Bev violated our state constitution, which she has, why is the NC Attorney General not pressing charges? This seems a lack of duty on their part as well. A very public and clearly prosecutable crime which has yet to be taken on by the Attorney General on behalf of the citizens of this state.

  • amyc74 Jul 23, 2009

    Just another attempt for Perdue to hire her buddies.. No one should be surprised by this.