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Judge backs education superintendent

Posted July 17, 2009

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— A Superior Court judge ruled Friday that Gov. Beverly Perdue cannot appoint a separate CEO for the public schools aside from the elected state superintendent of education.

Judge Robert Hobgood ruled that the General Assembly and the State Board of Education cannot deprive Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson of the power to oversee public education in North Carolina without a constitutional amendment.

"The judge's ruling says that the votes of our people count and that our constitution matters," Atkinson said after the court hearing.

June Atkinson and Bill Harrison Two people now in charge of N.C. schools

Perdue said in a statement that she was reviewing Hobgood's decision and planned to continue working with both Atkinson and Bill Harrison, the former Cumberland County Schools chief who she appointed in January to the dual roles of chairman of the education board and CEO of the public school system.

Harrison said in a statement that he would "continue my close working relationship with the superintendent and the governor to increase accountability and ensure North Carolina's public schools are globally competitive."

Former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, whose N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law represented Atkinson in the lawsuit, argued in court Wednesday that Perdue violated the state constitution by creating the position of an overarching public education executive and giving him day-to-day administrative powers.

Since then, Atkinson said, her role has been diminished to that of an ambassador for public education, which isn't what voters elected her to do.

Attorneys for the state maintained that a 1995 state law allowed the education board to craft the duties of the superintendent's position, but Hobgood said the superintendent's constitutional powers trump any such law.

"The General Assembly and the State Board of Education do not have the power, without a constitutional amendment, to confer on the chief executive officer of the State Board of Education the inherent powers of the duly elected superintendent of public instruction as the chief administrative officer of the State Board of Education," Hobgood said in reading his ruling.

Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood Web only: Judge rules on superintendent's position

North Carolina is one of 13 states that elect their chief school administrators.

It was unclear Friday what would happen to Harrison's post.

"Dr. Harrison and I have been friends for a long time. I know he and I will need to have a conversation about his role," Atkinson said, adding that there's no need for two people in charge. "He still remains the state board chair, (and) I believe both of us really do put the welfare of our children first."

Hobgood said in his ruling that the General Assembly could approve of a separate position to oversee the daily operations of the state Department of Public Instruction as long as it operates under the superintendent's direction.

"The wisdom of having a chief executive officer appointed by the State Board of Education at a salary of $265,000 per year is not for this court to decide," the judge said. "The job of administering a statewide public school system is difficult and complex."

A constitutional amendment to eliminate the elected superintendent's position and put a gubernatorial appointee in charge of North Carolina's schools would require a statewide vote and approval by three-fifths of the lawmakers in both the House and Senate.

Special Deputy Attorney General Mark Davis asked Hobgood to delay implementing his ruling pending an appeal. DPI is trying to deal with state budget cuts and is in the process of assuming control of the Halifax County school district because of continued poor student performance, he said, so Harrison should remain in charge to ensure consistency.

"This is going to be a major disruption for DPI," Davis said. "The system is not broken. It is functioning properly, and there is no reason not to stay this ruling."

Orr said Atkinson is "fully capable" of carrying out all DPI programs, and Hobgood agreed that the superintendent should immediately regain her power to lead the department.

Atkinson said she was ready to again take charge of DPI and move the state's schools forward.

"I will carry out the policies of the State Board of Education, and I will lead the Department of Public Instruction to make education better in North Carolina," she said. "We've got work to do in Halifax County. We've got work to do in the budget. We've got work to do in helping educators transform schools. I think there may be some awkward moments, but then after those moments, I think we can move forward."


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  • coolwill43 Jul 17, 2009

    This governor broke the law, she violated her office and the constitution of this state, she should be made to pay for the legal fees out of her own pocket and impeached or resign.

  • luke Jul 17, 2009

    Finally... the RIGHT thing.Congratulations to my fellow North Carolinians.We have seen justice!!

  • jpquick Jul 17, 2009

    Today's decision by the court is a victory for constitutional law and a defeat for the political machine behind Bev Perdue.

    NC does not need Bev's $400k political appointees to administer state public schools.

    As Democrats in the General Assembly debate budget cuts, they can start by eliminating the wholly redundant and unnecessary positions of Education "CEO" and "teacher advisor."

    It is refreshing to see that at least some portion of the judiciary is free from the corruption that presently permeates the governor's mansion and the state legislature.

  • lkanzig Jul 17, 2009

    HERE IS YOUR CLUE.........

  • lkanzig Jul 17, 2009

    can we please for the love of god, get off this it was democrats it was the republicans kick!
    it just shows how blind you really are!
    sure demcrats voted for bev and there was also some republicans that voted for her. so get off your high and mighty self righteous horse and get a clue!
    it is so sad that you are narrow minded!
    go stick your head back in the sand till you get a clue!

  • turdferguson Jul 17, 2009

    "Right now, all of the liberals who blindly support Bev Perdue and everything she does are silent because they don't have to comment, they just go out and cast their vote, and in 3.5 years Bev will be re-elected again."

    Thats because most of the people who put Bev in office don't read or watch the news, they just blindly vote straight democratic because that's the party of "hope" and "change".

  • time4real Jul 17, 2009

    Sing the Beatles tune with me,
    Hey June, you go girl, take a sad song and sing it to Bev, she has no kind of a flippin' clue, not even an inkling cause her name's Perdueeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

  • geo361 Jul 17, 2009

    At least Bev hasn't run up a trillion dollar deficit since she has been in office...but if we give her time.....Thanks to the Judge for recognizing that we still have a constitution in this state

  • prn13norm Jul 17, 2009

    Bev should be made to pay the state for all of Mr Harrison's salary.

  • rebelbelle Jul 17, 2009

    If we get rid of Harrison AND Bev's "teacher advisor" from Durham who was appointed at a salary of $60K to "give her the views of teachers, we'd save over $300,000 a year without touching a classroom position. How many other political appointees are taking up space in the Dept of Education and how much are they paid.

    I believe that most classroom teachers would be happy to give Ms. Perdue their views for NO pay--just visit the school and ask them!