NC Supreme Court Rules on BOE/Superintendent Powers Struggle, Both Parties Claim Victory

RALEIGH – The Supreme Court of North Carolina issued a unanimous decision on the constitutionality of a state passed in 2016 that delegated some powers away from the State Board of Education and to the Superintendent of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. Republican Superintendent Mark Johnson welcomed the legal victory, but, amusingly, so did the State Board.

“In a 6-0 decision released Friday, the Supreme Court upheld a three-judge panel’s ruling that declared as constitutional a 2016 state law transferring some of the State Board of Education’s powers to the superintendent. Johnson said that the ruling means he’s in charge now of the state Department of Public Instruction.

“Today’s ruling validates the common-sense position that the duly-elected Superintendent of Public instruction should lead the Department of Public Instruction,” Johnson said in a statement Friday. “I am looking forward to putting this lawsuit behind us and working with board members to strengthen public education in North Carolina.””

The ruling, and Johnson’s reaction, would appear to give him the green light in making hiring and firing decisions through out the bloated and bureaucratic ranks of North Carolina’s state education department. A lower court also ruled for Johnson in 2017.

However, the State Board seems to also think it came out on top in the ruling.

“We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision, which reaffirms that the State Board of Education — and not the Superintendent of Public Instruction — has the ultimate authority under the Constitution to supervise and administer the state’s public school system,” said Bob Orr and Drew Erteschik, attorneys for the state board.

“We are also pleased that, while the Court stopped short of invalidating this particular legislation on its face, the Court unanimously declared that the Board has the final say on ‘the mechanics of the relationship between the Board and the Superintendent, as well as how their respective departments will operate internally,'”

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Huh?

The 2016 legislation in question is House Bill 17. which generally transferred powers, like high level hiring and firing of DPI employees, and lining up the Office of Charter Schools under the superintendent instead of the State Board.

This ability to clean house at DPI seemed to threaten the State Board’s sense of power, and they whined that the law gave Johnson the ability to fire up to 1,000 DPI employees and then proceeded to block Johnson’s hiring decisions.

More specifically, the law:

  • Transfered administration of public schools and the state Department of Public Instruction from the State Board of Education to the state schools superintendent.
  • Transfered control of the Office of Charter Schools and appointment of the office’s executive director back to the state superintendent.
  • Transfered the power to hire and fire administrative and supervisory personnel in the Department of Public Instruction from the education board to the state superintendent.
  • Transfered appointment of the new superintendent of the Achievement School District, who will oversee some of the lowest performing public schools, from the education board to the state superintendent.
  • Removed the governor’s authority to appoint members to the Charter Schools Advisory Board and student advisors and a superintendent advisor to the State Board of Education.
  • Removed the governor’s ability to appoint members to the UNC system schools’ boards of trustees. Before, the governor appointed two of the up to 30 board of trustees members at each of the UNC system’s 17 campuses. Under the bill, the House speaker and the Senate leader each got one more appointment to each board.

And why shouldn’t the leader of a state agency have the power to shape personnel at that agency? Secretaries of Commerce, Health and Human Services, or Environment certainly have those common sense powers. With out them how is a leader supposed to affect the reforms he or she campaigned on when interviewing to be an agency leader?

Conservatives, and plenty of Democrats, appreciate the fact the school systems, from the county level up, have a tendency to get bloated with high paid administrators that don’t actually play an active part in educating students. In an age where teachers are marching for higher pay and school funding (and smearing Republicans), more concerned citizens on the Left should actually applaud anything Johnson does to clear out dead wood and free up more money.

The need to do that got more pressing this year, too, with DPI getting a $5 million budget haircut that will force it to operate more efficiently, and likely will mean layoffs.

Good. Every state agency, funded with out taxpayer dollars and rarely justifying big chunks of the gobs of money they are appropriated every year, should go through a significant haircut. Nothing good comes out of bloated Big Government, and that, unfortunately, is the path of least resistance when it comes to government agencies.

 

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