Education

Who is in charge of North Carolina’s public schools? NC Supreme Court will decide.

N.C. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson talks about charter schools at his office in Raleigh, NC on Feb. 8, 2017. The N.C. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit challenging a state law that transfers power from the State Board of Education to Johnson.
N.C. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson talks about charter schools at his office in Raleigh, NC on Feb. 8, 2017. The N.C. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit challenging a state law that transfers power from the State Board of Education to Johnson. cseward@newsobserver.com

The State Supreme Court has agreed to hear a court case to decide who should have control over North Carolina’s public schools.

The State Board of Education is appealing a lower court ruling in July that upheld a state law that shifts more control over public education operations to State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson. In an order released Friday, the N.C. Supreme Court agreed to the state board’s request to bypass the state Court of Appeals to hear the case now.

In October, the Supreme Court put the ruling on hold until appeals are finished. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin has recused himself from the case.

Last December, state lawmakers passed a law that shifts some of the powers of the state board to Johnson, including control of high-level hiring and spending at the Department of Public Instruction. In its lawsuit, the board said the legislature was trying to take away responsibilities conferred by the state constitution.

The law was passed by GOP lawmakers a month after Johnson, a Republican, had defeated longtime Democratic Superintendent June Atkinson.

In its July ruling, a panel of Superior Court judges said the state board had failed to prove that any part of the law was unconstitutional. The ruling said the law does not transfer power to Johnson, but lets him manage daily operations with board oversight. The law puts limits on the superintendent’s powers, and maintains the board as the ultimate authority to supervise and administer the public school system, the ruling said.

In a court filing, the state board said the new law “will move the entire $10 billion public school system under the control of a single individual for the first time in North Carolina history.” The board also said the law empowered Johnson “to take drastic action,” such as unilaterally firing more than 1,000 employees at the state Department of Public Instruction.

Johnson accused the state board of making “unsupported and exaggerated representations” in its court filing.

The last year has frequently seen bickering between Johnson and state board members at board meetings.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

  Comments