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WRAL: State schools superintendent moves to staff his office

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

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson is preparing to take advantage of $700,000 in funding state lawmakers approved to staff his office, WRAL is reporting.

GOP budget writers cleared the cash this year for Johnson to hire up to 10 new positions that would report directly to him and not the State Board of Education, all part of the superintendent’s ongoing courtroom battle with North Carolina’s top school board.

From WRAL:

(Johnson) recently received budget approval from the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management to create three positions, and more are expected later. According to OSBM, the three positions and budgeted amounts approved for the salaries (excluding benefits) are:

  • Associate Superintendent of Early Education – $174,603
  • Information and Communication Specialist – $72,346
  • ?Administrative Assistant – $38,867

Johnson has hired one of those positions so far. Isaac Ridgeway, a recent graduate of North Carolina State University, was hired earlier this month as the superintendent’s administrative assistant. His official title is research assistant and project coordinator, according to a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

The superintendent’s plan to hire an associate superintendent of early education is not unexpected. In April, he spoke about his desire to create the position during an event announcing his “NC Reads” program. Johnson said he wanted the person in that role to “find out what works best and present those back and really start to tackle early childhood.”

Johnson also plans to hire a communications specialist who will work directly for him. DPI recently hired a new communications director, Drew Elliot, but he serves both the superintendent and state board. In a phone interview Thursday, Elliot said the superintendent wants his own communications specialist because he has a “renewed focus on communication.”

Johnson has previously said he also plans to hire a chief of staff and a chief innovation officer, but it’s unclear when he will make those hires. He has declined to say what other positions he may create.

The superintendent couldn’t begin creating positions and hiring people until the Office of State Budget and Management certified the education agency’s budget on Sept. 13, according to Elliot. The hiring process was also slowed by the ongoing lawsuit between the superintendent and state board.

“He doesn’t know what flexibility he will have to change the existing positions at DPI,” Elliot said.

Court records in the ongoing legal battle have revealed numerous clashes between the superintendent and board over staffing changes at the agency. Johnson has accused the board of severely limiting his authority and ignoring his requests to hire people for certain positions.

Lawmakers stepped in to help Johnson and included $700,000 in the state budget for him to hire his own staff. They also provided him with $300,000 for his legal expenses while barring the state board from using taxpayer money to fund its lawsuit.

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