Still The Most Enabled Man in Raleigh – North Carolina’s State Superintendent

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Our schools need more nurses.

Our schools need more guidance counselors.

Our schools need more teachers.

Our schools need more resources.

And they need to be fully funded.

That’s why news today that Mark Johnson created two new positions for his office does not set so well. From WRAL’s Kelly Hinchcliffe:

North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson has created two new positions in his office to provide extra help with public relations and public records requests.

They mark the fourth and fifth positions Johnson has created from a $700,000 fund of taxpayer money lawmakers granted him last year. The money allows Johnson to add up to 10 full-time positions and hire staff without approval of the State Board of Education, a key provision lawmakers gave him as he battles the state board in court over control of the public school system (http://www.wral.com/nc-superintendent-creates-two-new-jobs-to-help-with-public-relations-public-records/17482124/).

Schools are understaffed, but Mark Johnson is hiring.

DPI’s budget was cut over 20% by the last budget, but Mark Johnson is hiring.

And the General Assembly’s powers are letting him do it, as long as he answers to them and does their bidding.

The July 2017  ruling by a three-judge panel in favor of State Supt. Mark Johnson against the State School Board over what powers the office of the state superintendent may have been a huge victory on the surface for Johnson’s supporters and those who seek to exert their influence through him and his inexperience.

But it was not a real victory for Johnson himself.

While the office of the state superintendent now has more executive power than at any time (although it is still in the appeal process and currently under a stay), Johnson himself lost more power as an individual in elected office. Why?

Because Mark Johnson is still the most enabled man in all of North Carolina. This latest episode of hiring people only “loyal to him” is more proof of that.

Not empowered. Enabled. And that’s not good for public schools. Will never be.

Consider this – a corporate attorney who taught for two school years through a program that historically does not place many long term teachers into the public schools, who did not complete a full term as a school board member and has never had a child in the public schools was elected in the most contentious election year in recent memory to become state superintendent. After he was elected and before he took office, he was granted more power as a state superintendent by a gerrymandered legislature in a special session that was thought to be called to repeal HB2. He has spent his entire term “embroiled” in a legal battle with the state board of education that is controlled by the same political party and literally has been a non-public figure while a budget that expands vouchers, keeps charter schools from being regulated, lowers per pupil expenditures for traditional public schools, and cuts the budget for the very department he is supposed to run.

All on the taxpayers’ dime.

Lawmakers 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 (http://www.wral.com/judges-rule-for-nc-superintendent-in-battle-with-state-education-board/16820368/).

The man who is still in a lawsuit is financed by the same General Assembly with taxpayer money while the very people who were appointed by the lawmakers in Raleigh have to use other means to finance their legal fees.

Talk about enabling. And “enabling” is not a good word here. No wonder Johnson feels the need to hire a public relations person. His image needs a lot of work with teachers and traditional public schools.

Remember what Phil Berger had to say about Johnson last year when Johnson won his initial round in courts with the state board?

“Voters elected Superintendent Mark Johnson based on his platform of strengthening our state’s public schools, and I’m pleased the court recognized the constitutionality of the law and that our superintendent should be able to execute the platform voters elected him to do” (http://www.wral.com/judges-rule-for-nc-superintendent-in-battle-with-state-education-board/16820368/).

There’s a tremendous amount of smug irony in that statement. Why? Because what voters elected Johnson to do was based on the job description that at the time was associated with the state superintendent’s job. What power Johnson now has was augmented by Berger and his cronies after Johnson was elected in a wave of conservative electoral victory.

If it was so important for the state superintendent to have new power over the public school system that was originally in the hands of the state board of education, then should not have each preceding state superintendent been given the same power?

Apparently not. Because each preceding state superintendent was much more qualified to be such than Johnson is. Each preceding state superintendent would have fought against the measures that have been enabled, enacted, and empowered by the current NCGA because that would have been in the best interests of the traditional public school system.

Especially June Atkinson.

When Berger stated that Johnson was elected on “his platform of strengthening our state’s public schools,” what he really inferred was that Johnson was going to allow “reformers” like Berger to strengthen charter schools and voucher programs – initiatives that actually hurt traditional public schools.

And it is a little sadistically humorous that a man (Berger) who has championed a variety of policies that have been ruled unconstitutional (gerrymandered districts, Voter ID law, etc.) would brag about upholding the constitutionality of the law. That same man also pushed to not extend Medicaid in this state when so many people needed it and the very hospital in his hometown of Eden filed for bankruptcy (http://myfox8.com/2017/07/11/morehead-memorial-hospital-files-for-bankruptcy/).

And that is not to mention what all is being done by this General Assembly to alter the court system in the state to become more politically aligned with its agenda.

With today’s announcement that the state superintendent will hire both a PR person and a public records person shows how controlled Johnson is as the state superintendent. He is showing that he is now more than ever beholden to the very General Assembly that will opaquely exert its will on public education by controlling the very person whose only transparency comes in the form of his credentials for being state superintendent because they are so paper thin.

That is no victory for public schools.

But at least Johnson will work on his image.

If the General Assembly empowered public school teachers one-tenth the amount that they enable Mark Johnson, then I would have no need for this blog.

However, whatever power Johnson has been given, he still does not have enough to keep me from wanting to be a public school teacher in North Carolina.

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