Education

Superintendent Mark Johnson’s letter explaining iPad decision draws a predictable response

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson

Is was predictable.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson’s decision to pushback against criticism that he awarded hundreds of iPads to educators without having them apply for the electronic devices through a formal, competitive process produced — well, more criticism.

Justin Parmenter, a Charlotte teacher who blogs at “Notes from the Chalkboard,” took a swing at Johnson after posting a letter Johnson wrote to editors at the Charlotte Observer defending the iPad awards.

Parmenter posted the letter on the “North Carolina Teachers United” Facebook page with this comment:

“I’m not sure if this makes me an establishment insider or media elite, but Mark Johnson’s letter is missing an explanation of how state law allows him to take funds the General Assembly allocated to DPI and give thousands of $$ worth of technology to teachers of his unilateral choosing without an equitable process,” Parmenter wrote.

“Establishment insider?” “Media elite?”

Parmenter snatched those words right out of Johnson’s letter.

“I ran for office to be an agent of change. I knew that meant establishment insiders and media elites would never like me. But I work for the people of North Carolina,” Johnson said.

Parmenter’s criticism of Johnson is the same as that hurled by some State Board of Education (SBE) members at their monthly meeting.  There, Johnson was questioned about the wisdom of unilaterally distributing iPads without a formal system or process to ensure fairness and equity.

“How do we respond when the question is, ‘Well, what criteria is used to make these awards and how does my school get into the queue to be considered for these awards?'” asked SBE Chairman Eric Davis.

Johnson responded that all teachers must do is to send him an email. His office later issued a statement that said teachers must apply to be considered for iPads.

A Pitt County teacher got 100 iPads for her classroom after she emailed Johnson to ask for them. The Ocracoke School, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Dorian, received 200 iPads after school leaders talked to Johnson.

Johnson explained in the letter that he was attempting bypass government bureaucracy, which slows the process of getting materials and supplies into classrooms.

“I travel the state often to avoid becoming yet another Raleigh insider who never meets face-to-face with constituents,” Johnson said. “I frequently hear about the delay in response time caused by bureaucracy. I also get to see firsthand how N.C. teachers make use of iPads to help provide better, personalized opportunities for students.”

Johnson’s letter also covered much of the ground he did at the SBE’s monthly meeting. He explained that he paid for the extra iPads with savings realized after implementing “efficiency” measures in the Office of Superintendent.

He also took another jab at his predecessor, June Atkinson and his SBE colleagues, to justify spending the savings on the iPads.

“In 2016, my predecessor chose to use the State Superintendent’s operating budget for sponsoring conferences and paying for meals for hundreds of attendees,” Johnson wrote. “In 2017, the Board of Education, which sued to try to keep control of the state education agency, used $380,000 to pay for lawyers in courtrooms rather than resources in classrooms.”

The $380,000 Johnson referenced is money the SBE spent in a legal tangle that involved Johnson, Republican lawmakers and the SBE over who would control the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

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