NC superintendent praises, criticizes staffing changes at state education department

Posted May 4, 2017 1:17 p.m. EDT
Updated May 5, 2017 1:57 p.m. EDT

North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson

— The State Board of Education voted on several major staffing changes at the state education department Thursday, drawing both praise and criticism from Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson.

Board members voted to name Maria Pitre-Martin as the new deputy state superintendent, making her the second in command under Johnson. She previously served as the department's chief academic and digital learning officer earning $151,236 a year. Her new salary was still being approved by the state Office of Human Resources and was not immediately available.

Johnson urged board members to vote against her appointment. He explained that "all candidates we interviewed were exceptional" but cited his displeasure with the process the board used to choose Pitre-Martin. Despite the superintendent's plea, only one board member – Amy White – voted no.

One change Johnson was pleased with Thursday was the board's unanimous decision to allow him to hire his own chief of staff and have that person report solely to him. The position previously reported to both the superintendent and the board, and Johnson has been vocal in recent months that the position should belong to him.

"I want to thank the board for allowing me to hire my chief of staff," Johnson said.

It's unclear whom the superintendent will choose for the position. He said he planned to make some calls Thursday and make an announcement soon.

The board also voted unanimously Thursday to create a new senior level position at the Department of Public Instruction – chief district and school support officer. The position will report to both the board and Johnson. The board has not yet defined exactly what the position will entail.

For months, the superintendent and the state board have clashed over staffing changes. Some of those disagreements are at the center of an ongoing legal battle between the two sides over who has constitutional authority to supervise the state's public school system.

At the heart of the legal battle between Johnson and the board is a law passed in December that would transfer many of the board's powers to Johnson. The board quickly filed suit against the state, claiming the law diminishes the board's constitutional authority and "raises significant legal concerns."

A judge granted a temporary restraining order, preventing Johnson from taking control. A three-judge panel is expected to hear the case on June 29.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have been working to help Johnson get more control over DPI. Pending legislation would give Johnson more than $500,000 to hire staff for his office, and those hires would not be subject to the board's approval.