A Pitt County teacher received 100 iPads. All she had to do was ask State Superintendent Mark Johnson.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson (left) holding an iPad.

Teach in a North Carolina public school?

Need iPads?

Email State Superintendent Mark Johnson.

It was that simple for a math teacher at Rose High School in Pitt County who recently received 100 iPads from Johnson just for asking.

Johnson explained the award during a tense State Board of Education (SBE) discussion about whether Johnson has the authority to unilaterally distribute hundreds of iPads to schools and districts without a formal policy or process.

“The teacher, who I knew from a previous visit, emailed me and said I can really use iPads for my Math I class and a program I do to help students with their opportunities after high school,” Johnson said. “She’s a fantastic teacher. I wish I could give every teacher a 100 iPads. These are iPads I had with that flexibility, so I gave them to her.”

Johnson also sent 200 iPads to Ocracoke School in Hyde County after the superintendent there requested them. Ocracoke students and teachers were displaced by Hurricane Dorian last month. The iPads are intended to help students stay on schedule with their classwork until they can return to school.

Some board members expressed concerned that teachers and school leaders would see Johnson’s awards as unfair.

SBE Chairman Eric Davis asked Johnson how board members should respond when asked “what criteria was used to make these awards” and how to get on the list to receive iPads.

Johnson responded: “They can email me.”

SBE member Alan Duncan said the board and superintendent should be in sync on such purchases.

“There ought to be some organized system about how they would be distributed such that we avoid the controversies that are inevitable as to how one got and another didn’t get,” Duncan said.

The iPads distributed to the teacher and Ocracoke School were purchased with money leftover in the superintendent’s budget, Johnson said.

“We are doing such a better job with the operations of this department than was done in year’s past under previous leadership,” Johnson said. “Things are operating more efficiently and more effectively, and when you do that, you end up finding that there’s money leftover at the year, What I decided to do with that money at the end of the year, was to purchase iPads because they are something that’s in high demand, regardless of whether you’re a high school math teacher or if you’re a K-3 reading teacher.”

Explaining further, Johnson said: “This is money that was in the state superintendent’s budget that I did not spend to sponsor a conference, I did not spend to buy lunch for conference attendees and at the end of the year, there was enough left over to where I could have an impact on classrooms and that’s what I did.”

Johnson’s remarks about his office running more “efficiently and more effectively” than under previous leadership appear to be directed at former state superintendent June Atkinson, a Democrat, who Johnson unseated in the 2016 General Election.

SBE member J.B. Buxton also questioned Johnson about $3.4 million in the Read to Achieve budget to purchase 11,000 additional iPads and Chromebooks.

Johnson said the money will be used to ensure every K-3 classroom in North Carolina has a minimum of four electronic devices. Each classroom will also get $400 to use for early literacy efforts.

He said the money for the electronic devices was leftover from last year’s Read to Achieve budget and the $400 for each classroom will come out of this year’s budget.

Johnson’s tenure has been marked by controversy over his purchase of iPads to support the state’s signature reading program, “Read to Achieve.”

Earlier this year, Johnson was criticized because 2,400 of 24,000 iPads bought to support early childhood literacy sat unused in a state warehouse for months. They have since been distributed.

The purchase of the 24,000 iPads were the source of much discussion by Johnson’s critics angry about the superintendent’s decision to buy them without first informing the SBE.

The purchase also raised concerns because Johnson spent $6.6 million in unspent Read to Achieve dollars to buy the iPads under a no-bid contract.

Around the time the iPads were purchased, NCDPI sent layoff notices to dozens of employees to help meet a $5.1 million state-ordered budget cut. That move angered critics who wanted the money used to save jobs.

Ethical questions were raised after Policy Watch reported that Johnson and three influential Republican budget writers in the North Carolina General Assembly were wined and dined by Apple reps at their Cupertino, Calif., headquarters prior to the purchase.

Apple spent more than $5,300 on transportation, lodging and meals on a total of six North Carolina leaders.

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