State Superintendent Johnson, Who Do You Serve?

Dear Supt. Johnson,

I appreciated the words in your video address to teachers thanking us for our work during the National Teacher Appreciation Week. For those who may not have seen that video, here is a link: https://youtu.be/asLHLCxjQ6k.

You talked about how teachers are not thanked enough, and while it is nice to hear those sentiments, the teacher, the public school parent, and the voter in me wants to see something else: action.

Why? Because during this week of “Teacher Appreciation” and polite ceremony, schools in many districts were still struggling to find the necessary resources and having to ask for essential support as the North Carolina General Assembly’s Senate chamber rolled out a budget proposal that did nothing to improve funding for public schools.

In fact, what happened on West Jones Street this “Teacher Appreciation Week” showed how much many in Raleigh do not appreciate what happens in public schools.

And this teacher, parent, voter, and advocate needs to ask you as the chief administrator of public schools, “What are you willing to do?”

First, it is quite disconcerting to not have heard you speak about the proposed cuts to the Department of Public Instruction. Actually, they aren’t really cuts. It’s more of a severing of limbs.

As suggested in the budget proposal, http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2017/Bills/Senate/PDF/S257v2.pdf, there would be a 25 percent cut in operation funds for DPI.

NC Policy Watch’s Billy Ball reported on May 12th, 2017 in “Senate slashes DPI; state Superintendent silent,”

North Carolina’s chief public school administrator may be silent on Senate budget cuts to North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction, but the leader of the state’s top school board says the proposal has the potential to deal major harm to poor and low-performing school districts.

“There’s no question about that,” State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey told Policy Watch Thursday. “A 25 percent cut, which I can’t believe will be the result of this process, would cut into very essential services for particularly the rural and poor counties.”

Cobey is referring to the Senate budget’s 25 percent cut in operations funds for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), a loss of more than $26 million over two years that, strangely, has produced no public reaction from the leader of the department (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/05/12/senate-slashes-dpi-state-superintendent-silent/).

Whether or not you want to give a statement to NC Policy Watch, the fact that you have not openly responded to this is actually quite surprising. And this is happening in a year where the same lawmakers are touting yet another SURPLUS in revenue.

Frankly, your power struggle to obtain authority over segments of public school policy with the state board has pretty much put a lot in limbo as far as crafting what you said in January were “urgent” reforms needed in our education system. Furthermore, those reforms and changes do not seem to have any shape or form in your first 120 days in office.

And it seems to have helped bring about a reduction of the very office that many look to help sustain many needed facets of public education in the state, especially in rural districts – by a fourth!

Some of those very districts were hurt by some late night underhanded partisan backstabbing this past weekend.

Colin Campbell of the News &Observer reported in “At 3 a.m., NC Senate GOP strips education funding from Democrats’ districts” on May 13th,

“The session finally resumed around 3 a.m., and Republican Sen. Brent Jackson introduced a new budget amendment that he explained would fund more pilot programs combating the opioid epidemic. He cited “a great deal of discussion” about the need for more opioid treatment funding.

Jackson didn’t mention where the additional $1 million would come from: directly from education programs in Senate Democrats’ districts and other initiatives the minority party sought” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article150397682.html#storylink=cpy).

What is your position on that?

Those districts’ schools are your schools. That proposed cut of twenty-five percent to DPI affects your schools. This prolonged lawsuit against members of your own party affects your schools.

Actually, they are our schools. And you were elected to work for our schools.

At the beginning of your term that you stated you would be conducting a “listening tour” for your first few months. I and others are very interested in learning what you have heard and how it may guide your policies.

However, a LOT WAS SAID THIS WEEK in words and actions – budget cuts, falling from 42nd to 43rd in per pupil expenditures, “super-vouchers,” and attacks on programs that help small districts. So, the obvious question might be, “What are you going to do about this?” It appears if you truly appreciated teachers and public schools, it seems that you would be screaming at all of this.

But the real question might be “Who do you serve?”

That same budget which is causing many people to doubt our state’s commitment to public schools also gave you money to do a couple of things. The first concerns a legal fund.

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That’s three-hundred thousand dollars to use so you can sue the State Board of Education to get powers as a state superintendent that have never been placed in the hands of the office before. The face of the State Board of Education is the same person who commented above about the cuts to DPI when you did not.

The second is to secure loyalty.

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This allows you to have five more people to work for you than the previous state superintendent which is odd considering that the same people who gave you this appropriation and the money to sue your own state board are the very ones who have cut DPI’s operation budget by a quarter.

So I ask again, “Who do you serve?”

Actions say so much.

And in this case a lack of a reaction screams.

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