It all started with HB17 that was “passed” in a special session of the North Carolina General Assembly after the 2016 elections and before the new terms began. That bill gave the office of the state superintendent more power over the public school system than any previous state superintendent had and removed part of the checks and balances that the state board of education provided.
In short, it was a power grab. And the new state super, Mark Johnson, walked into the office with more power than any predecessor. He also had by far the least experience of any in public school administration.
And Mark Johnson was not given this power to champion the public schools; he is there to champion those entities that want to weaken public schools and allow more private entities to take a foothold in North Carolina such as charter schools.
The state board did not go easily after HB17. For the next 18 months Mark Johnson and the SBOE fought in court over control of the public school system. Johnson “won” in a state that has seen the NCGA try everything in its power to gain a stronghold of the judicial branch of the state government. Just look at the 2018 constitutional amendment for judicial elections and appointments that was defeated on Election Day and one sees that attempt at power grabbing.
In June of 2018, Johnson entertained former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and a multitude of other politicians who have made it their job to privatize public education in North Carolina.
Days later, he laid off 40 people from the Department of Public Instruction due to a budget cut made by many lawmakers in the same room as Johnson and Bush in a year where the state supposedly had a surplus.
The next month, Johnson did a reorganization of DPI. Below is what DPI organizational flowchart was prior to Johnson’s actions:
This is what it looks like now.
The first thing to notice is that on the older chart some positions were titled with ALL CAPS and had a thicker border surrounding them. That meant that these people were Dual-Report Positions. In short, they answered to both the state board and to Johnson. However, that went away on July 1, 2018 with this:
“With the 8 June 2018 North Carolina Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of Session Law 2016-126, I am now exercising my authority under that Act to manage administrative and supervisory personnel of the Department. Accordingly, I am changing your position appointment from “dual report” to reporting [only to the Superintendent directly] or [to the Superintendent through the Deputy State Superintendent]. The change in your appointment is effective immediately,” Johnson wrote.
What that meant was that those people who held those positions not only now answer to Johnson alone, but he has total control over what they do. A man with less than two calendar years of teacher training and classroom experience combined along with an unfinished term on a local school board now “calls” the shots for all of those veterans in a DPI whose budget was being slashed by the very people who prop up Johnson and passed that original HB17 bill.
Also in the older chart, Johnson reported to the state board. In the new one, the state board of education does not even really have any ties to DPI except through an internal auditor. It’s like they do not exist, which is just what the powers that run the NCGA wanted.
Another change is that there are now FOUR Deputy State Superintendents: Operations, District Support, Early Education, and Innovation along with a Chief of Staff. That’s now five people who run DPI and directly report to Johnson and no one else (when you include the Chief of Staff).
And soon after that Johnson named a new Chief of Staff.
Joseph Miamone was the headmaster of Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, a charter school in Rutherford County. He was also a member of the Charter School Advisory Board which reviews applications for charter schools in the state and makes recommendations to the state board as to which applications should be accepted.
That hire was yet another move to cater to private industries to receive monies from NC taxpayers as Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy is a charter school affiliated with TEAM CFA.
That affiliation is shown right at the top left of the homepage. Click on it and you get:
That outfit at one time operated over 10 charter schools in North Carolina.
Team CFA is based in Oregon. John Bryan, the founder of the Team CFA, has donated money left and right to specific politicians and PACs here in North Carolina to extend the charter industry including Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (through a PAC). He spear-headed an attempt to win the contract of the ISD school in Robeson that was opened with Dr. Eric Hall as the original superintendent. He reported straight to Mark Johnson under provisions of HB17 which gave Johnson more power as a state superintendent than any other in the state’s history.
Hall then reported (until early 2019) directly to Johnson as the Deputy Superintendent of “Innovation” and that ISD that now has a foothold in NC was heavily involved with TEAM CFA.
In a short amount of time two of the five most important positions that directly report to Mark Johnson had ties to a charter school chain whose owner made plenty of direct political contributions to people in the NCGA who prop up Johnson.
You might want to see who all has received political contributions from John Bryan. All one has to do is look at FollowtheMoney.org.
Among the other North Carolinians John Bryan has donated to include:
- Chad Barefoot
- Phil Berger
- Tim Moore
- Ralph Hise
- Jason Saine
- David Curtis
- Jerry Tillman
That’s quite the list of privatizers.
Southside-Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County still is the only school in the new Innovative School District and is run by a for-profit charter school company – Achievement for All Children.
Achievement For All Children was among the groups who applied for state approval to run struggling schools that will be chosen for the Innovative School District. Achievement For All Children is heavily connected to Oregon resident John Bryan, who is a generous contributor to political campaigns and school-choice causes in North Carolina.
TEAM CFA seemed to have more of a foothold in DPI thanks to Mark Johnson than people who have actual experience in the state’s public schools.
Those political contributions to Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is making his own run at the governor’s mansion, seem to point to some rather seedy underpinnings. And it’s no secret that Forest loves charter schools. That is well known among public school advocates.
And in 2019, Johnson unilaterally decided to sign a contract with iStation as the provider of software for the Read to Achieve initiative. Ironnically, he did the same with Class Wallet this past school year without input from educators. It turns out that both ClassWallet and iStation hired the same lobbyist in NC to procure those contracts from DPI – Doug Miskew from the Public Sector Group in Raleigh.
Public education in North Carolina receives the highest amount of money in the state budget each year. It’s supposed to. It’s literally in the state constitution. How it goes about funding public education is a process that involves numerous checks and balances to ensure fairness.
But those checks and balances have been removed somewhat by a eight-year super-majority in the NCGA elected in a gerrymandered manner that has allowed for the greatest expenditure in the state budget to be a more open coffer for private entities to profit from.
And it’s certainly changing DPI from a public service agency to a haven of private interests.