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N.C. Supreme Court to hear court battle between State Board of Education, Superintendent

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

The N.C. Supreme Court will hear a pivotal court battle between the State Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, WRAL reports [1].

The case concerns a 2016 law passed by the GOP-controlled General Assembly [2] weeks after Johnson, a Republican, defeated the state’s longtime superintendent, June Atkinson. Lawmakers sought to boost Johnson’s power over the budget, personnel and other matters in North Carolina’s central public school administration.

From WRAL:

The lawsuit has been working its way through the court system. In July, a three-judge panel ruled in favor of Johnson, but the board appealed. Last month, the N.C. Supreme Court granted the board’s motion for a temporary stay. The stay, which is in effect until further notice from the Supreme Court, prevents Johnson from taking control of the state’s public school system.

In a statement Friday, state board attorney Drew Erteschik said they are “pleased with the court’s decisions.” WRAL News has reached out to the superintendent’s office for comment.

Erteschik has said the case “will determine who supervises and administers the state’s $10 billion public school system for the benefit of our 1.5 million school children. With stakes this high and constitutional issues this significant, this is clearly a case that ought to be heard by our state’s highest court.”

The powers in question have been under the board’s control, and board members said shifting them to the elected superintendent violated the state constitution and threatened the working relationship between the board and the superintendent.

Johnson, a Republican, ousted longtime Democratic Superintendent June Atkinson last year and took office in January. The fight between Johnson and the board, which has a Republican majority, has been bitter, with Johnson saying the board “severely limited” his authority and ignored or denied his requests to make staffing changes at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Both sides have previously said they spent weeks trying to negotiate a deal to resolve the board’s stay motion, but couldn’t do it.

Johnson and the state board have had a tempestuous relationship since he took office in January. This week, the two sides butted heads yet again [3] over frequent legislative budget cuts for the public school agency.