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State Board of Education puts off vote on DPI cuts, names new spokesman

Superintendent Mark Johnson (left) and State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey (right)

Members of the State Board of Education emerged Wednesday with a widely-expected decision to appeal last week’s court ruling in their case with Superintendent Mark Johnson and state lawmakers, but a final decision on how to administer $3.2 million in legislative cuts to North Carolina’s K-12 bureaucracy is still in the works.

Board members were mum on the issue following Wednesday’s conference call meeting, most of which was spent in closed session discussing their legal case and personnel matters.

Nevertheless, members are expected to move quickly on their decision in the coming days.

As Policy Watch reported Tuesday, the DPI cuts are likely to cost multiple employees their jobs and slash services to local school districts. While the agency provides oversight of the state’s public school system, it also provides professional development and intervention in low-performing schools, particularly in poor and rural portions of the state.

Board Chair Bill Cobey told Policy Watch that Johnson had shared proposals for passing down the cuts, with board members providing feedback. Neither party was willing to make those proposals public however, pointing out the plans involved confidential personnel matters.

In addition to Wednesday’s decision on the court appeal, board members also took a vote to name a former state communications officer and newspaper editor as the agency’s top spokesman.

Board members unanimously agreed to name Drew Elliot to the post, replacing Vanessa Jeter, the department’s longtime communications director who retired at the end of June.

Elliot has been an editor at the North State Journal, a statewide newspaper based out of Raleigh, for less than two years. But prior to that, he was communications chief for North Carolina’s environmental regulation agency, now called the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

Elliot led communications at a tense time for the department, as it shifted to GOP-controlled leadership and dealt with a firestorm of controversy over a massive coal ash spill in Eden.

“I have no doubt he’ll be a valuable addition to our staff,” said Cobey. “This, of course, is a very key role in the agency.”

Communications at DPI have been in a state of transition in recent weeks. Policy Watch reported this month on Johnson’s controversial decision to temporarily halt some communications in the agency after Jeter’s departure.

Elliot was recommended to the board by a committee that included Cobey, Johnson, state board member Greg Alcorn and DPI Deputy Superintendent Maria Pitre-Martin.

The decision comes with Johnson and the board still entangled in a lawsuit over a December law approved by the GOP-controlled General Assembly that would grant the Republican superintendent greater budgetary and hiring powers.

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