The state education department is being hit with a wave of retirements and resignations this month, leaving important jobs empty.
Deputy State Superintendent Rebecca Garland is retiring after a combined 21 years at the state Department of Public Instruction. Chief Financial Officer Philip Price is retiring after 35 years at DPI and three years at the legislature’s Fiscal Research division. Human Resources Director LouAnn Phillips is leaving for a job as deputy in the state human resources office.
Garland said her husband’s failing health was key to her decision to retire, but she wanted to stay into February to help new state Superintendent Mark Johnson with his transition. Johnson, a Republican, defeated longtime office-holder June Atkinson, a Democrat, in the November election.
Price said he was thinking about retirement before the election, and that Atkinson knew he was ready to leave. Price said he’s planning to be a consultant.
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Under a new law passed by the Republican-controlled legislature that shifted more authority to the superintendent, Johnson would have had sole authority to fill those three jobs. But because the law is on hold in state court, the people who hold those positions continue to report to both the State Board of Education and the superintendent. That leaves board members with key roles in choosing successors.
The jobs will be filled “they same way we’ve done it in the past,” Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey said.
Johnson referred questions about filling the vacancies to board members.
Rachel Beaulieu, the department’s lobbyist, is leaving to revive her education-focused law practice, and will join the Public School Forum of North Carolina as a senior policy adviser. Beaulieu has been at DPI for four years, and Cobey said she works for the board.
In an emotional farewell speech at the board’s meeting Thursday, Garland urged the State Board to continue working to make sure public education stays strong. In addition to working at DPI, Garland was an administrator for Alamance-Burlington and Orange County school districts. She began her career teaching in Harnett County schools.
“I’m a very strong proponent of public education,” Garland said. “I think it changes children’s lives and it makes our state stronger.”