Dear State Supt. Johnson: Are You Actually Going To Take A Stand or Continue Rubber-Stamping?

What happened this past week with the state superintendent’s office is yet another example of the redundant walking contradiction that is the tenure of Mark Johnson.

On Friday it was announced that State Superintendent Mark Johnson hired two new staff members: an associate state superintendent for early childhood education and a leader for the school business modernization project.

As reported by Kelly Hinchcliffe on WRAL.com,

“State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson announced Friday that he has added two people to his leadership team at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Michael Spano, who started this week and will be paid $110,000 annually, is leading the school business modernization program. Pamela Shue, who begins later this month and will be paid $126,000 annually, will be associate superintendent for early childhood education. Both are newly created positions” (http://www.wral.com/nc-superintendent-hires-staff-for-new-early-education-school-business-positions/17122706/).

This is all part of the “budget” of taxpayer money that the state has given Johnson to hire people only beholden to him.

432

Actually, it’s more than $432,644.

Hinchcliffe states,

“Johnson also plans to hire an information and communications specialist. The position is part of $700,000 in taxpayer money lawmakers gave the superintendent to hire new staff for his office. The money allows Johnson to create up to 10 full-time positions and hire staff without approval of the State Board of Education, a key provision lawmakers granted him as he battles the state board in court over control of the public school system.”

That battle with the state board obviously has involved a lot of money in legal fees and while the state board is using its allotted budget to fight against Johnson’s unconstitutional power grab, Johnson is using taxpayer money to fight a legal battle to represent a bunch of lawmakers who refuse to use taxpayer money to fully fund the very schools that service most all of the children of those taxpayers.

The taxpayers that Johnson is supposed to serve.

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Besides the hiring of Ms. Shue at twice the salary of a veteran educator is doubly redundant. Why? BECAUSE THERE IS ALREADY A 23-PERSON STAFF IN PLACE FOR EARLY LEARNING CALLED THE OFFICE OF EARLY LEARNING.

Let’s go further than that. Johnson is spending taxpayer money to hire people to do work already taken care of and wage legal war against the state board of education when the very General Assembly that is financing him and propping him up just cut the budget for the Department of Public Instruction by nearly %20 over the next two years.

And just this past week, it was reported by Lindsay Wagner in “Without action, class size mandate threatens Pre-K in some school districts” on the Public School Forum of North Carolina website,

Without the necessary time and money to build more elementary school classrooms to satisfy the General Assembly’s requirement to lower class sizes next year in kindergarten through third grades, Warren County Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Ray Spain says he’s looking at eliminating most or all of his Pre-Kindergarten classes district wide.

“It’s going to be disastrous.”

Spain says he’s forced to consider this scenario because there’s simply not enough space in Warren County’s elementary schools to give the older children more teachers and smaller classes while also giving low-income 4-year-olds an early learning environment that, a large body of research says, is critical for their success in kindergarten and beyond (https://www.ncforum.org/without-action-class-size-mandate-threatens-pre-k-in-some-school-districts/). 

Pre-K education is the very initiative for which Shue was hired to oversee is already being threatened by an unfunded mandate that Johnson has not fought against. There is nothing on record from Johnson that has been reported concerning this action.

It doesn’t stop there. Last week it was also bantered about by the gerrymandered Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform an idea to scrap the teacher salary schedule.

Has Johnson said anything about that?

Of course he has not. He should have been the first to make a comment.

In fact, the last time many teachers have heard from him was a video message with one of those surveys attached to it. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGYhL-1gOXs&feature=youtu.be.

It is not very in-depth. It talks about using technology to do professional development with a free-tool that he identified within IBM’s Watson program. It’s nice, but he fails to even acknowledge the herd of elephants in the room. One of those elephants is “time.”

In the video Johnson accomplishes a lot of things: he uses technology to “communicate” with teachers; he offers a chance for teachers affected by the HB13 law to get more resources for an ever changing pool of standards; and he gets to feel like he has helped teachers.

What really happened is that he got to not answer direct questions, specifically how are teachers going to be able to take advantage of this resource when the state has put so much on them that they have to get professional development on their own time rather than attend together in collaborative settings like it used to be when North Carolina was a leading state school system.

And time might be the most valuable resource that teachers are in need of. Katherine Correll’s recent op-ed in EdNC.org makes a great case for this – https://www.ednc.org/2017/11/14/need-provide-teachers-luxury-time/.

When Mark Johnson does not have the time to address the very contradictions of the “reforms” that he both defends and champions, then his silence begins to scream louder than any of the propaganda coming from people like Phil Berger, Tim Moore, and Chad Barefoot.

If Johnson is to make any case for being a leader, then he needs to stick out his neck and speak up more and do something he hasn’t done so far: spend time fighting for public schools rather than spending time rubber stamping bad reforms.

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