Supt. Mark Johnson Sees Favorable Ruling; State Board to Appeal

A North Carolina Superior Court 3-judge panel ruled in favor of Superintendent Mark Johnson in his legal battle with the State Board of Education.

The Superior Court judges said in their July 14th ruling that the board had failed to prove that any part of the law was unconstitutional.

The ruling states that the law was not a transfer power to the Superintendent, but instead allows for Johnson to manage daily operations.  Additionally, the ruling notes that the Board maintains its advisory capacity and oversight abilities.

Supt. Mark Johnson Reacts

“For too long, the lack of clarity about DPI leadership has fostered a system of non-accountability,” said Johnson in a statement.

“While this system is great for shifting blame and avoiding responsibility, non-accountability at DPI hurts North Carolina students. Last December, the General Assembly addressed this problem by clarifying the parameters set forth in the NC Constitution. Their efforts offered greater transparency to educators and parents across the state seeking to engage with DPI and greater accountability at DPI,” Johnson stated.

“Today, the Superior Court has affirmed the constitutionality of the General Assembly’s actions and I look forward to, belatedly, working for more and better change at DPI,’ said Superintendent Johnson.

Senator Berger responded via Twitter:

Short-Lived Celebrations

Celebrations were short-lived, however, as the State Board of Education announced on July 19th it would appeal the decision.

Johnson tells American Lens that he was, “disappointed about the appeal” but that he is hopeful that the decision will be upheld.

Johnson appeared at the Wake County Republican Women’s luncheon last week the day after news broke that the State Board of Education would be appealing.

The women showed their support for Johnson by posing for a group photo while holding up question mark signs.

Wake GOP Women - Mark Johnson - Question Marks 1 (4)
Photo by A.P. Dillon – American Lens News

The Wake County Republican Women’s club confirmed to American Lens they planned to send the photo to the State Board of Education.

The group says they want the board to know how frustrated they are with the board drawing out the situation by appealing.

Johnson: Cronyism Rumors Are True

Superintendent Johnson then addressed the legal fight in his remarks to the group. Johnson said the battle was very frustrating and hampering his ability to “clean up” the department.

“All the rumors you hear about cronyism in that department – they’re true,” Johnson told the group.

Johnson, a Republican, told the group that on his first day in office his chief of staff was Adam Levinson.  That’s the same chief of staff that his Democratic predecessor June Atkinson had.  “That was clearly going to be problematic,” Johnson said.

Levinson had been shifted around to various roles by Atkinson in order to keep him employed at the department. Levinson served as Race To The Top Director, Chief Performance Officer and interim director of the charter school office.

Around the same time the chief finance officer Philip Price resigned, but the person Johnson proposed to fill the position was turned down by the board. The board turned around and hired Levinson to fill the position instead.

Under Price’s watch, the department had failed to properly pay income tax in 2014. That failure resulted in the agency having to make a deal with the Internal Revenue Service.

A letter obtained by American Lens corroborates that DPI had to pay the IRS roughly $249,527. However, sources inside DPI say the $249,527 amount is not the original figure owed and allegedly DPI owed upwards of $700,000.

The HB 17 Legal Fight History

During the 4th special session of the North Carolina General Assembly, substantial changes were made to the Educational power structure via House Bill 17 (HB 17).

The bill shifted power from the State Board of Education to the new State Superintendent, Mark Johnson. Specifically, the Superintendent is no longer “Subject to the direction, control, and approval of the State Board of Education.”

HB 17 gives the Superintendent the power to, “create and administer special funds within the Department of Public Instruction to manage funds received as grants from nongovernmental sources in support of public education.”

State Board of Education Fires Back

The State Board of Education (SBE) did not wait long to act.  In a press release, the SBE said the bill raises “constitutional concerns” and eliminated checks and balances.

Read:  NC’s HB 17 Strips State Board of Ed of Powers

The SBE filed for a restraining order to keep the law from going into effect on January 1st and that same day, December 29th, 2016, Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens granted the request.

There was to be another hearing on the matter on January 6th, however it was postponed.

The attorneys for the SBE (Bob Orr and Drew Erteschik) released the a statement applauding the postponement and noting a three judge panel had been assigned to hear the case.  That statement can be viewed in our earlier report.

View the NCSBE v. The State of NC filings:

View the response filings by Supt Mark Johnson:

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