Commentary

Mark Johnson’s hometown newspaper: State courts must reject his bid for unchecked power in education

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson

This morning’s lead editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal is on the money with its assessment of a lawsuit challenging the efforts of state lawmakers to bestow essentially unfettered control of North Carolina schools on the state’s rookie superintendent of public instruction  (click here to read Policy Watch reporter Melissa Boughton’s summary of the case from last week).

As the editorial, “Fairness in education,” rightfully observes:

“Good for a three-judge panel that has delayed a new state law that would shift power from the state school board to the state school superintendent. Lawyers for the board now have more time to convince the state Supreme Court that the law is an unjustified power grab.

By the terms of the state constitution, the state school board has enjoyed strong power. The GOP-dominated legislature never tried to change that when Democrat June Atkinson was the state superintendent. But when she lost her post in last fall’s election to Republican Mark Johnson of Winston-Salem, the legislature pushed through a bill that outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory signed that would give more power to the state superintendent.

The Associated Press reported last week that the panel gave lawyers for the State Board of Education until Oct. 16 to make their case that the law is unconstitutional. The AP also noted that “the same three judges ruled in July that the law was valid.”

We hope the state Supreme Court will strike down the law.

The state school board that is GOP-dominated should retain its power. As we’ve said on this page, ‘After serving only two years on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board, Johnson, a lawyer and former teacher, ran for state superintendent and won. He’s a hard worker. But no superintendent should be given this unchecked power, especially one with this little experience and especially not for partisan motives.’

Johnson’s lawyer is fighting the delay. But the state school board’s attorney, according to the AP, argues that the risk of disrupting operations at the core of the state’s education system before the state Supreme Court ultimately decides the case is too great.

‘Let’s do this calmly, slowly and give the appellate courts a chance to rule and make the final resolution of this issue,’ the attorney, Andrew Erteschik, said. ‘In a case of this size and magnitude, a ‘well, let’s just see what happens’ approach is not what’s best for our 1.5 million school children.’

The high court should strike down this law.”

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