As the North Carolina House readies its release of a budget proposal for the next two fiscal years, it bears repeating that public education is the number one expenditure of the state. That’s not a surprise. According to the state constitution, it is designed to be the top expenditure. In fact, it’s that way for the almost every state in the country.
A couple of weeks ago, the state senate released its budget proposal. It called for a 25% cut in the operating budget for the Department of Public Instruction.
It would make sense that the leader of the public school system in the state be one of the first to speak out about what the General Assembly plans to allocate for schools and the operating body that helps to run the state system.
Be reminded that on Thursday, January 5th, 2017, just days after he took office, Mark Johnson stated the following at his first State Board of Education meeting:
“Every day that we don’t take bold actions for our students is a day that our students lose. Every day that we don’t take bold actions for our teachers is a day that our teachers lose. Complacency is the antithesis of urgency, so I ask that we act with urgency and not be complacent in anything that we do. If we don’t act with urgency, we will continue to betray students and we will continue to lose teachers and have difficulty retaining them and recruiting them.”
The operative word there is “urgency.” Johnson really gives it renewed vigor juxtaposing it with the word “complacency.”
In that same prepared statement, he also said,
“We have a lot of issues and challenges facing us. We have to own them. We have to own that we need to do something about testing. We have to own that there are students graduating from our schools that we are giving diplomas to that are not prepared for college or the workforce. We are the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. It is our job to own those challenges and find solutions. We must be innovative to find solutions.”
In that slice of rhetoric, he identified himself as part of a whole – “we.” And he talked about the “we” being the “Department of Public Instruction.”
So, after more than five months of a “listening tour,” the words “urgency,” “ownership,” and “we” seem to have morphed into something else. A lot can happen in five months, because five months is literally half of a school year.
At this time of the year, we have tests. Students have their “achievement” measured. Schools get “graded.” Teachers get “evaluated” mostly on how people do on these tests – the ones that Mark Johnson says “we need to do something about.”
And we have this budget that literally decimates the very construct he heads – the “we” he so passionately talked about in January.
Actually, this is Mark Johnson’s first test.
And how has he responded?
Take a look at Alex Granados’s article on EdNC.org entitled “Funding cuts to Department of Public Instruction in question” from May 23 (https://www.ednc.org/2017/05/23/25-percent-cut-dpi-maybe-not/).
“Meanwhile, while the Senate is asking for a 25 percent cut to DPI and eliminating eight positions outright, it is also spending about $432,000 in recurring dollars to fund five positions that directly report to the State Superintendent — the person that oversees all of the positions in the Department of Public Instruction.
That person, Mark Johnson, was critical of the Department of Public Instruction during last year’s election campaign.
Sounds about as antithetical as “urgency” and “complacency,” does it not?
But here is the telling part.
Attempts to contact Johnson for comment on the Senate’s plans for DPI were unsuccessful. A member of Johnson’s staff said he would be unavailable all week for interviews.
So much for “urgency.”
So much for “we.”
So much for “bold.”
So much for “ownership.”
So much for “action.”
And when the words “unsuccessful” and “unavailable” become associated with the leader of the public school system, then it does not take a lot to figure out how well his test results will be.
But don’t worry. His score will surely be “curved” by those in control in the General Assembly.