Education

After yearlong power struggle, state education leaders take battle to NC Supreme Court

Posted February 6, 2018 3:27 p.m. EST
Updated February 7, 2018 11:36 a.m. EST

— The North Carolina Supreme Court is hearing two State Board of Education lawsuits on Wednesday, including the board's high-profile battle with State Superintendent Mark Johnson over control of the state's $10 billion public school system.

WRAL.com is live streaming both cases at 9:30 and 10:30 a.m.

The state board and superintendent have been at odds since December 2016, when Republican lawmakers took some of the board's powers and transferred them to Johnson, the newly elected superintendent. The board quickly filed suit, claiming the change violated the state constitution and raised "significant legal concerns."

Johnson has been blocked from assuming that power as the case has worked its way through the court system.

In his affidavit, Johnson said the state board has "severely limited" his authority and ignored or denied his requests to make staffing changes at the state Department of Public Instruction. He has publicly described the board as a group of complainers who shift blame, lack accountability and avoid responsibility instead of fixing the state's "outdated" school system.

In a statement last month, Johnson said he "look(s) forward to the State Supreme Court upholding the lower court’s unanimous decision that allows for a system of great accountability at the Department of Public Instruction."

"It is time to put this issue behind us so we can concentrate completely on the education of the students here in North Carolina," Johnson said.

State board attorney Bob Orr said the board looks forward to the Supreme Court hearing the case.

"We’re confident in our position," Orr told WRAL News last month.

The state board's other lawsuit, known as the rules review case, will be heard first on Wednesday. In it, the state board argues that it should not have to submit rules it makes to a state panel for review.

When the General Assembly passes a law, state agencies must adopt rules to carry out that law's intent. In the case of almost all state agencies, the rules they adopt must be signed off by the Rules Review Commission, an appointed panel designed to make sure state agencies don't overstep their authority.

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey said the board has not submitted anything to the commission since 2014, when the board filed a lawsuit against the commission and the state after lawmakers declined to give the board an exemption.

"We haven’t submitted a rule or a policy to that process since we went to court, and I haven’t heard anybody complain about any of our policies or rules. It’s not been a problem," Cobey told WRAL News in November.

The Supreme Court is hearing the rules review case at 9:30 a.m. and the superintendent case at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, but it could be months before the court announces its rulings. WRAL.com is live streaming both cases.