Local News

Ask Anything: 10 questions with N.C. Public Schools CEO Bill Harrison

Posted July 8, 2009 11:06 a.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 2:03 p.m. EDT


What I want to know is why we even need a CEO of schools, at a high salary, when we have a duly elected and qualified Superintendent of Public Instruction? – Ed Taylor, Knightdale

In my role as CEO, I actually serve in a dual capacity – as chairman of the State Board of Education and as CEO of the Department of Public Instruction. The positions of Deputy State Superintendent and of Executive Director of the State Board of Education have been replaced by my position as CEO and Board Chairman. Gov. Perdue felt that this organizational structure would provide more accountability for education decisions.


How much money do you make? How much of a pay cut did you take when the teachers took their pay cut? – Deborah Melvin, Raleigh

My salary is $265,000, which is on par with the salaries earned by local school superintendents, including my former position in Cumberland County. I took the same .5 percent pay cut that every other state employee took.


Mr. Harrison: Does the fact that so much controversy surrounds your created position affect your morale or the morale amongst your subordinates? – Richard, Parkton

I was asked by Gov. Perdue to lead the State Board of Education and the Department of Public Instruction, and that is where my focus remains. The work of the Board and Department continues to move forward. The most difficult morale issue for state education leaders and Department employees is the budget situation – which, of course is the same difficulty being faced by many workers in both the public and private sectors today.


There is so much talk about laying off thousands of teachers, teaching assistants, etc. in hopes of creating funds to pull the school system and ultimately the state out of debt. I would like to know where all the money spent on lottery tickets is going. North Carolinians are spending the most ever on lottery tickets, by playing the "North Carolina Education Lottery." If all the proceeds are not going to our education, should this lottery be called something else? Or should we re‑evaluate where this money is going and perhaps keep our teachers employed? – Jessica, Raleigh

Legislation describes specific uses for funds generated for the NC State Education Lottery. The NC Education Lottery provides about $100 million to support current class sizes for K-3 at 1 teacher: 18 students and about $85 million to support the More at Four program for academically at-risk preschoolers. Lottery funds also support local capital projects and scholarships as set out in the original lottery law. All together, lottery funds make up about 2.24 percent of the public schools’ operating budget. Unfortunately, the proceeds are not large enough to be the answer to our budget troubles.


With cost cutting and productivity where the private sector is going, what specifically are you doing to lower costs and increase productivity? What specific dollar amount do you look to save in 1, 3 and 5 years? What percentage will the savings be for each year of total education spending? – Pete Wakker, Raleigh

Let me begin by describing how we receive the funding to support public education. The State Board of Education prepares a budget that is based on funding models approved previously by the General Assembly. This Continuation budget request does exactly what its name implies – it continues current levels of services. The State Board of Education also submits an Expansion Budget. In it, Board members outline funding needed for new initiatives and to meet new needs. These two Budget requests – Continuation and Expansion - are submitted to the Governor for consideration. The Governor then submits a Budget recommendation to the General Assembly. The final Budget is based on the decisions made by our General Assembly and signed off on by our Governor. Each Budget cycle requires adjustments (cost cutting and expansion for new programs). In the current economic environment, we have had to freeze expenditures and look for areas that could be reduced.

The key to your question is connecting the cost savings to increased production. Our product is the successful education of our children. So, it is important to examine how a cut will impact the delivery of services to our students. It is also important to advance our student performance as we reduce the overall expenditures for the delivery of the services. During the 2008-09 fiscal year, we followed our Governor's leadership by working closely with local school districts and charter schools to manage a major budget shortfall with minimal impact on the classroom. For the upcoming fiscal year, we are looking at possible reductions of $1 billion (from our $8.3 billion budget). The Governor and General Assembly are still debating the appropriate level of funding and cuts for the upcoming school year. Whatever is decided, we will work once again to focus the use of North Carolina’s resources on services that have the greatest impact on student learning performance.

Our funding is dependent on targets established by the Governor and General Assembly, the number of students attending our schools, and priorities of the State Board of Education and elected officials. We will work to make sure that we maximize the use of funds we receive and to assure that resources are targeted to teaching and learning – the activities at the heart of public education.


With all the budget cuts, why are the school employees still driving county vehicles home? If all the county employees across the state are doing this, it would save a lot of money keeping the vehicles parked and the employees driving their povs. – Ronald Cook Sr., Fayetteville

If local school employees are driving county vehicles home, that is a local policy issue of your school board and central office staff. State employees have not been allowed any travel except in very exceptional circumstances during the recent spending freeze.


What do you plan to do about the high suspension rate in North Carolina school systems since our school system is 45 percent above the national average? – TS, Fayetteville

I share your concern about high suspension rates. At the state level, we have several initiatives underway to assist with this. One of the more visible programs is Positive Behavior Support which shows promise for decreasing student suspensions and is currently in place in 770 schools. One hundred and four of the state’s 115 school districts have at least one school participating. Some of these schools are new to the program, and others have had it in place for several years.


I wonder why no one has suggested a camera system be placed in all halls, classrooms and buses. With violence, sexual harassment claims and bullying being at the top of the list, why are we not considering this form of protection? – Gina Bechtel‑Hicks, Moncure

Some school districts use cameras in selected school locations and on some school buses. With camera systems, there are installation costs and also monitoring costs that have to be considered, as well as philosophical debates regarding having camera monitors all over the school property.


How can N.C. justify education conferences when some teacher jobs may be cut? – Linda Pope, Wallace

We share your concern about priorities. As a result, we have cancelled all face-to-face large group meetings or conferences when possible and have replaced those with Web-based meetings and other “virtual” meetings. There are some exceptions, however. In some cases of large conferences, the cancellation costs for breaking the hotel and convention center contracts is larger than the cost of holding the event. In those cases, we are holding these events and encouraging school districts to be thoughtful about who they send to these meetings and about the source of funds for participating in these events.


Can it not be a requirement that all members of the Board of Education and the top three administrators of DPI go to a classroom for a day/week each year? Not simply for a PR visit but actually watch a classroom to see all the items that must take place so they would know the impact their rulings would have on the front line? I think teachers would really appreciate the effort. I am a 30 year retired veteran and would have liked to have seen an official in class. – Pat McGhee, Louisburg

This is a great suggestion. There is no substitute for seeing today’s classrooms and schools firsthand. We do encourage Board members to visit schools whenever they reasonably can do so. At this time, it is not a formal requirement but we will consider ways to make sure education staff and Board members regularly spend time in schools and classrooms. Many of us at NCDPI have recently been classroom teachers, school principals or central office leaders in local school districts and have recent first-hand experiences to help guide our decisions.

ask anything - dmi