About Those New iPads From Mark Johnson – Finding $6M To Spend After Slashing DPI’s Budget

Today Mark Johnson announced that reading teachers in k-3 will receive a brand new Apple iPad to use in classrooms this year. On the surface, this seems like a positive notion. But…

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From Travis Fain at WRAL:

Reading teachers across the state, from kindergarten to third grade, will get computer tablets from the state this school year in an effort to track and improve student reading.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson announced the plan Tuesday morning, holding up an iPad for the media, the governor and other members of North Carolina’s Council of State. Johnson’s office put the statewide pricetag for the devices at about $6 million (https://www.wral.com/superintendent-nc-k-3-teachers-getting-ipads/17752429/).

There is also a video attached to the story. Take a look at it. Judge for yourself.

Apparently that money came from a “discovered” account of unused funds that DPI had from years past. Johnson claims that it is money that previous DPI officials just sat on. Dr. June Atkinson said differently in this piece from NC Policy Watch that Fain cites within his report.

North Carolina’s former public school superintendent June Atkinson says the state’s current K-12 leader “misled” the public when he blasted the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) last month over $15 million in unspent Read to Achieve dollars.

Atkinson criticized Superintendent Mark Johnson in recent interviews with Policy Watch, nearly a month after Johnson slammed the K-12 bureaucracy for “disturbing” spending practices, including its alleged failure to dole out state cash in 2015 and 2016 intended to boost elementary reading proficiency.

“Mark does not understand or has not in all candor or transparency pointed out that a substantial amount of that unspent money would be a direct result of (local) school districts not using the dollars,” says Atkinson (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/12/06/mark-johnson-accused-misleading-public-regarding-literacy-program-spending/).

\That entire article is worth the read because it helps shed light on what happened to make that money magically appear for Johnson.

But it’s the timing and the the amount of money that seem to make this announcement more than a coincidence.

Recently, Johnson purged many jobs within DPI as part of a budget cut that just happened a little over a month ago.

Layoff notices were given Friday to 40 employees at the state Department of Public Instruction — including several who work with North Carolina’s low-performing schools — to help meet a $5.1 million budget cut ordered by state lawmakers.

Most of the cuts were in Educator Support Services, a division that helps low-performing schools and districts, and in the Information Technology Division. In addition to the 40 layoffs, 21 vacant positions were eliminated, according to State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson.

“Today, we implemented the budget reductions required by law for the 2018-19 fiscal year,” Johnson said in a written statement. “The plan we developed, drafted by members of the DPI leadership team with the understanding and support of the State Board of Education, was informed by the recommendations contained in the third-party operational review of the agency completed earlier this year by Ernst & Young (EY) “ (https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article214065504.html).

A 5.1 million dollar shortfall on top of a 1 million dollar audit and 700,00 extra for lawyers and loyalists to Johnson and it caused a massive layoff of vital people in DPI who helped low-performing schools.

And now all of a sudden Johnson talks about six million that just appeared? That six million could have more than offset the DPI budget shortfall and it isn’t as if DPI really needed to be “reduced.” Why? Because that million dollar audit by Ernst & Young came back and said that DPI needed more funding.

Yes, having resources are a good thing for teachers, but it seems really cheap when the same General Assembly that props up an educational neophyte like Johnson in the office of state super fails to even allow a school construction bond to appear on the ballot.

School buildings are wasting away across the state and students are attending classes in dilapidated conditions in places where Educator Support Services from DPI will no longer be provided, but there might be a couple of new iPads to help out?

Furthermore, it all conveniently happens right at the beginning of the school year.

And as an added non-rhetorical question that was posed by Justin Parmenter, teacher activist and education writer, how will this purchase specifically help to reverse the trend of Johnson’s pet project, Read to Achieve, when there are so many other factors that need to have attention paid to them?

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