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Judges rule for NC superintendent in battle with state education board

July 14th, 2017

— A three-judge panel ruled Friday in favor of state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson in his power struggle with the State Board of Education over control of North Carolina’s public schools.

The state board filed suit in December after Republican lawmakers passed legislation in a special session that provided Johnson more flexibility in managing the state’s education budget, more authority to dismiss senior level employees, control of the Office of Charter Schools and the ability to choose the leader of the new Innovation School District, which oversees some of the lowest-performing schools in the state.

Those powers have been under the State Board of Education’s control, and board members said shifting them to the elected superintendent violated the state constitution and threatened the working relationship between the board and the superintendent.

Johnson, a Republican, ousted longtime state Superintendent June Atkinson last fall and took office in January.

“[T]he State Board has failed to satisfy its burden of proof as to the facial unconstitutionality of any provision of the statute,” the judges’ wrote in their two-page ruling.

The fight between Johnson and the board has turned bitter in recent months, with Johnson saying the board “severely limited” his authority and ignored or denied his requests to make staffing changes at the Department of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly included about $700,000 in the state budget for Johnson to hire several staffers without the approval of the state board. The budget also provided him with money for his legal expenses while barring the state board from using taxpayer money to fund its lawsuit.

Anticipating an appeal in the case, the judges stayed their ruling for 60 days, meaning the law, which has been blocked since late December by a temporary injunction, remains on hold.

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