Local Politics

State denies education superintendent's claims

Posted June 4, 2009 4:21 p.m. EDT

— Lawyers for the state on Thursday denied Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson's contention that Gov. Beverly Perdue's decision to name a chief executive to oversee the state's public schools was unconstitutional.

Atkinson filed suit in April, in an attempt to regain her authority as chief administrative officer of North Carolina's schools.

Perdue in January named former Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Bill Harrison to the dual role of chairman of the State Board of Education and the new position of schools CEO. She said the move would improve accountability and more clearly define leadership in the state Department of Public Instruction.

Atkinson said North Carolina voters elected her to the superintendent's post with the idea that she would be in charge of the school system, and she said Perdue's actions – as well as legislative attempts in recent years to chip away at her authority – were unconstitutional.

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.

Legislation approved in 1995 gave the board flexibility to craft the superintendent's job. The power of the post has ebbed and flowed since then, depending on who was on the job. During Atkinson's first term, the board gave most of the day-to-day authority of the schools to a deputy superintendent.

A response to the suit filed by the Attorney General's Office denies her claims and maintains the suit should be dismissed. The state claims sovereign immunity and says Atkinson can't legally bring the suit.