State board asks NC Supreme Court to hear lawsuit against superintendent

Posted November 15, 2017 5:21 p.m. EST
Updated November 16, 2017 9:31 a.m. EST

Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson and State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey

— The State Board of Education filed a petition Wednesday, asking the North Carolina Supreme Court to hear its lawsuit against State Superintendent Mark Johnson. The petition is the latest in a nearly year-long battle between the board and superintendent over control of the state's public school system.

In a statement Wednesday, state board attorney Drew Erteschik said the case "will determine who supervises and administers the state’s $10 billion public school system for the benefit of our 1.5 million school children. With stakes this high and constitutional issues this significant, this is clearly a case that ought to be heard by our state’s highest court."

WRAL News has reached out to the superintendent's office for comment.

The state board filed suit last December after Republican lawmakers passed legislation in a special session that provided Johnson, the newly elected state superintendent, more flexibility in managing the state's education budget, more authority to dismiss senior level employees and control of the Office of Charter Schools, among other things.

The powers in question have been under the board's control, and board members said shifting them to the elected superintendent violated the state constitution and threatened the working relationship between the board and the superintendent.

The lawsuit has been working its way through the court system. In July, a three-judge panel ruled in favor of Johnson, but the board appealed. Last month, the N.C. Supreme Court granted the board's motion for a temporary stay. The stay, which is in effect until further notice from the Supreme Court, prevents Johnson from taking control of the state's public school system.

Johnson, a Republican, ousted longtime Democratic Superintendent June Atkinson last fall and took office in January. The fight between Johnson and the board, which has a Republican majority, has been bitter, with Johnson saying the board "severely limited" his authority and ignored or denied his requests to make staffing changes at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Both sides have previously said they spent weeks trying to negotiate a deal to resolve the board’s stay motion, but couldn't do it.