Education

With $700,000 to spend, NC superintendent begins hiring new staff for his office

Posted October 20, 2017 1:14 a.m. EDT
Updated November 17, 2017 2:39 p.m. EST

North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson at Ephesus Elementary School in Chapel Hill on March 15, 2017.

— North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson has begun hiring new staff for his office, using $700,000 in taxpayer money given to him by the General Assembly this year.

Johnson can create up to 10 full-time positions and hire staff without approval of the State Board of Education, a key provision lawmakers granted him as he battles the state board in court over control of the public school system.

He recently received budget approval from the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management to create three positions, and more are expected later. According to OSBM, the three positions and budgeted amounts approved for the salaries (excluding benefits) are:

  • Associate Superintendent of Early Education – $174,603
  • Information and Communication Specialist – $72,346
  • ​Administrative Assistant – $38,867

The superintendent's office later asked OSBM to make a correction to the budget. Instead of paying the associate superintendent of early education from Johnson's $700,000 fund, that position will be paid from the $250,000 lawmakers set aside for early childhood education.

Johnson has hired one of the positions he has requested. Isaac Ridgeway, a recent graduate of North Carolina State University, was hired earlier this month as the superintendent's administrative assistant. His official title is research assistant and project coordinator, according to a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

The superintendent's plan to hire an associate superintendent of early education is not unexpected. In April, he spoke about his desire to create the position during an event announcing his "NC Reads" program. Johnson said he wanted the person in that role to "find out what works best and present those back and really start to tackle early childhood."

Johnson also plans to hire a communications specialist who will work directly for him. DPI recently hired a new communications director, Drew Elliot, but he serves both the superintendent and state board. In a phone interview Thursday, Elliot said the superintendent wants his own communications specialist because he has a "renewed focus on communication."

Johnson has previously said he also plans to hire a chief of staff and a chief innovation officer, but it's unclear when he will make those hires. He has declined to say what other positions he may create.

The superintendent couldn't begin creating positions and hiring people until the Office of State Budget and Management certified the education agency's budget on Sept. 13, according to Elliot. The hiring process was also slowed by the ongoing lawsuit between the superintendent and state board.

"He doesn't know what flexibility he will have to change the existing positions at DPI," Elliot said.

Court records in the ongoing legal battle have revealed numerous clashes between the superintendent and board over staffing changes at the agency. Johnson has accused the board of severely limiting his authority and ignoring his requests to hire people for certain positions.

Lawmakers stepped in to help Johnson and included $700,000 in the state budget for him to hire his own staff. They also provided him with $300,000 for his legal expenses while barring the state board from using taxpayer money to fund its lawsuit.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to explain that the associate superintendent of early education's position will not be paid through the superintendent's $700,000 fund. It will be paid by the state's early childhood education fund.