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New power grab by Superintendent Mark Johnson is a recipe for dysfunction

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

A bill filed by Lincoln County Representative Jason Saine in the NC House this week would bring the State Board of Education’s legislative director Cecilia Holden and general counsel Eric Snider under NC State Superintendent Mark Johnson’s supervision.

As Johnson already has a legislative director and general counsel (Kevin Wilkinson and Jonathan Sink), it’s very possible that Holden and Snider would then be relieved of duty.

Let’s unpack the implications of this move for North Carolina’s school system.

The State Board’s legislative director serves as the primary point of contact between the board and state and federal policymakers. The loss of Cecilia Holden would deprive our State Board of Education of a valuable source of information which is essential to shaping the work it does on behalf of 1.5 million students and nearly 100,000 teachers every day.

Recently, Holden was instrumental in laying the groundwork for collaboration between the State Board’s J.B. Buxton and Senator Berger’s office in working to improve Read to Achieve legislation. On the other side of the coin, the school supply bill which was proposed last week by Senator Wells included zero input from the State Board. That legislation was dismissed by our last two Teachers of the Year as being a terrible idea for schools. Amid the resulting fallout, Mark Johnson was left scrambling to reassure teachers that he was working with the General Assembly on increasing funding for supplies.

The work of a legislative director in connection with the State Board can be that crucial link in the chain to ensure policies that are in the best interests of our teachers and students. The State Board’s general counsel also plays a vital role in allowing the board to effectively carry out its management oversight, through legal services that impact school personnel directly such as contract review and responding to litigation.

The loss of the independent check and balance of the board’s legislative director and general counsel would allow Mark Johnson to work even more in isolation with the General Assembly than he already does. That would come as a serious blow to our public school system at a time when constructive working relationships between the various bodies that serve North Carolinians are more needed than ever.

Justin Parmenter is a veteran Mecklenburg County educator who writes frequently about public education in North Carolina at the website Notes from the Chalkboard, where this post first appeared. You can also follow him on Twitter at @JustinParmenter.

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