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State Board of Education to talk lawsuit, DPI budget cuts this week

State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey

North Carolina’s top public school board is expected to discuss state budget cuts and a possible appeal of a recent court decision granting new powers to Superintendent Mark Johnson Wednesday.

State officials announced Wednesday’s conference call days after a three-judge panel sided with Johnson and state lawmakers in the board’s much-debated lawsuit. But, as if the stakes weren’t high enough, Wednesday’s meeting comes with state education leaders debating how best to administer a $3.2 million legislative cut approved by the GOP-controlled General Assembly last month.

The court case stems from a December law that sped new budgetary and hiring powers to the new Republican superintendent, a move state board Chair Bill Cobey decried as “unconstitutional.”

From  Policy Watch’s Melissa Boughton today:

The State Board of Education did not meet its burden of proof recently when arguing that lawmakers were unconstitutional when transferring power to newly elected Superintendent Mark Johnson, according to a three-judge panel.

The panel that heard arguments in NC State Board of Education v. State of NC and Mark Johnson at the end of June issued its ruling Friday in favor of the state and Johnson, although a stay preventing the law from taking effect will remain in place for 60 days to allow for an appeal.

In its memorandum, the panel cited two cases that allowed for “great deference to the acts of the General Assembly.”

“Acts of the General Assembly are presumed constitutional, and courts will declare them unconstitutional only when ‘it [is] plainly and clearly the case,’” the court document states. “The party alleging the unconstitutionality of a statute has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the statute is unconstitutional. … Where a statute is susceptible of two interpretations, one of which is constitutional and the other not, the courts will adopt the former and reject the latter.”

The panel cited some of the arguments Johnson’s attorney made; one being the final clause in Article IX, Section 5 that state’s the Board’s powers are “subject to laws enacted by the General Assembly.”

Many of the provisions of the law transferring Johnson the Board’s power “simply shift the details of day-to-day operations, such as hiring authority,” the panel wrote.

“The court further concludes that those aspects of the legislation appear to fall well within the constitutional authority of the General Assembly to define specifics of the relationship between the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction,” the document states.

The panel states that the statute continues to provide that the Board supervise and administer the public schools and make all necessary rules and regulations to carry out that function, which limits the Superintendents’s duties. Because of that, the Board failed to show the legislation violates the Constitution, they added.

That said, Wednesday’s meeting is likely to be spent mostly, if not entirely, in closed session as they discuss the ongoing lawsuit and personnel matters. Check back with Policy Watch Tuesday afternoon for a budget report.

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