State News

Atkinson: Courts or voters should decide education leaders' roles

Posted March 5, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— On the same day that the governor's designated chief of schools was sworn in for that job and took over as State Board of Education chair, Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson raised the prospect of a legal case to resolve constitutional issues about who is in charge of what.

Gov. Bev Perdue has pushed to consolidate power over and accountability for public education, which a consultant had said was diffuse.

Thursday, former Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Bill Harrison was appointed as the new chairman of the State Board of Education and sworn in as the state school system's new chief executive, a position Perdue created.

Atkinson could press legal action to clarify education leaders' role Atkinson threatens legal action to clarify role

Harrison is the first person to serve as both State Board of Education chairman and as chief executive of the state Department of Public Instruction.

Atkinson, who is elected to her post, congratulated Harrison, whom she called her "friend and professional colleague," on his appointment, but said her role must be clarified.

"I believe the appointment of a chief executive officer of Public Instruction is not in accordance with the state constitution," Atkinson said. "I would like the General Assembly to put forth some sort of constitutional referendum, or I may need to go through the judicial system."

Atkinson said she has written to the General Assembly leadership, asking them to either allow voters to amend the constitution to clarify or eliminate her job.

"I just think it's a charade" that voters believe that the person they elect to run the Department of Public Instruction is actually given that responsibility, Atkinson said.

Harrison replaced board chairman Howard Lee, who stepped down from the board Thursday. Lee will serve as executive director of Perdue's education cabinet.

An outside consultant criticized North Carolina's school system in a January report, saying the lack of clear-cut leadership thwarted efforts to improve education.

Bob Orr, a former justice on the State Supreme Court, said he is working with Atkinson. Three main issues are in contention, he said:

  • the scope that the state constitution grants to the superintendent of public instruction;
  • the authority and scope of the newly created CEO position and its relation to the superintendent;
  • and a constitutional provision regarding a person holding two appointed positions.

The state constitution calls the superintendent the chief administrative officer of the board, whose voting members largely are appointed by the governor and are directed to supervise and administer the public schools. But legislation approved in 1995 gave the board flexibility to craft the superintendent's job.

A month ago, Perdue said that Atkinson would continue to serve as an "ambassador" for the public schools. Some lawmakers, such as Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, and education advocates have recommended the state superintendent become an appointed position or be abolished.

Thursday, the Governor's Office indicated that the dispute might go in the direction of the General Assembly.

"If the General Assembly wants to take up the issue of the role of the state superintendent of public schools, they are welcome to do so," said Chrissy Pearson, a spokeswoman for Perdue.


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  • davidbh61255 Mar 6, 2009

    Seems like if we keep adding positions at the top of DOE they might get as top heavy as NC DOT!

  • IMONC Mar 6, 2009

    Another reason why McCrory kept telling us to be aware of Bev. As the tax payer and State employees wait for more job losses and lay offs, Bev keeps hiring old friends who are paid in 6 digits to do the same job as their peers. Bev will run NC into the ground once and for all.

  • walkindogs Mar 6, 2009

    Go For It June!!!!! I just wish she could sue governor Perdue. Maybe June should have donated thousands to Bev's campaign and she wouldn't be getting pushed out.

  • adotd Mar 6, 2009

    Fight for this June! We voted for YOU!

  • mtnmama Mar 6, 2009

    Well, I am beginning to doubt why I supported the Gov in the first place. So far, I've heard plans to "feminize" the mansion, and now this. All the while asking everyone for multiple rounds of budget cuts. Gov said she would have to make some tough decisions. The toughest I've seen are making blatantly unnecessary expenditures and while simultaneously demanding budget cuts from budgets that should be the last to do so. Talk of laying off teachers, increasing class size, not allowing personal coffee pots and fans? C'mon, this is getting rediculous! June should be allowed to do the job she was ELECTED TO DO BY THE PEOPLE, and stop what appears to be cronism!

  • maddiesmom972 Mar 6, 2009

    So NC has no money. They are SLOWLY sending out YOUR tax refud. And Mike in Dress creates a new position which I am sure is more well paid then she would like us to think. A position the voters already voted on and have someone in place. TYPICAL!

  • dws Mar 6, 2009

    what?? mean taking care of friends is bad???....even if at best, it is a BROAD stretch of the law????


  • ratherbnnc Mar 6, 2009

    I think the Supt is exactly right! Its her job and thats why she was elected statewide. I think its an issue that Budget Cut Bev doesnt like her. Plain and simple! Bev wants control of the Board of Education. I say they should remove Harrison and give it back to Atkinson where it rightfully belongs and voter approved.

  • SaveEnergyMan Mar 6, 2009

    Looks clear to me too oldfirehorse. Here's the full text for everyone else: NC Constitution Article IX. Sec. 4. State Board of Education.

    (1) Board. The State Board of Education shall consist of the Lieutenant Governor, the Treasurer, and eleven members appointed by the Governor, subject to confirmation by the General Assembly in joint session. The General Assembly shall divide the State into eight educational districts. Of the appointive members of the Board, one shall be appointed from each of the eight educational districts and three shall be appointed from the State at large. Appointments shall be for overlapping terms of eight years. Appointments to fill vacancies shall be made by the Governor for the unexpired terms and shall not be subject to confirmation.
    (2) Superintendent of Public Instruction. The Superintendent of Public Instruction shall be the secretary and chief administrative officer of the State Board of Education.

    Not much else written there about it.

  • oldfirehorse Mar 6, 2009

    "If the General Assembly wants to take up the issue of the role of the state superintendent of public schools, they are welcome to do so," said Chrissy Pearson, a spokeswoman for Perdue." ----- Mighty nice of you Ms. Pearson, but, I don't believe the General Assembly actually needs yours or the Governor's permission or blessing to "take up" any issue.