New year brings new roles in state education

By: By Chrysta Carroll -

North Carolina has once again garnered critical national attention, this time around with HB17.

The major backlash from the bill — passed by the N.C. General Assembly and approved by Gov. McCrory in December — has been regarding the changes it brings to education.

The N.C. Constitution states that the role of the State Board of Education is to “supervise and administer the free public school system, and the educational funds provided for its support …” and the superintendent is “the secretary and chief administrative officer of the State Board of Education.”

HB17 shifts supervisory roles from the State Board to the superintendent. Republican State Supintendent Mark Johnson — who replaces outgoing Democrat Jane Atkinson — now has the power to hire and fire certain employees, including State Board employees, without the SBE’s approval. The local superintendent and two high school advisors who serve on the State Board will no longer be appointed by the newly elected Democratic governor, but by the state superintendent. In addition, rather than serving as the “secretary and chief administrative officer” of the SBE, the incoming superintendent will now be recognized as head of the Department of Public Instruction.

Other changes involve the authority of the superintendent to select the head of the Achievement School District, as well as direct supervision of the Office of Charter Schools.

“The Constitution of North Carolina clearly identifies the duties each party (the governor, SBE, and state superintendent) has, and if they desire to make a change, they need to go through proper channels,” weighed in Bladen County Schools Superintendent Robert Taylor. “The only thing we’re concerned about as superintendents is that all three parties continue to keep children’s interest at hand. Who does what is minor, and we would like them to focus on things associated with class size and things associated with the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act and keep proper funding for students at the forefront — not quibble about power, but focus on what’s best for children.”

Being under the speculative microscope of the nation is nothing new for the N.C. General Assembly, which earlier in 2016 passed the controversial H.B. 2. H.B 17’s proponents are crying foul again and pointing fingers at the media.

“… I have come to realize that the current changes to executive authority in House Bill 17 have been greatly exaggerated by misleading TV ads, paid protesters and state and national media outlets,” said former Gov. Pat McCrory in a press release. “This bill enhances state employee policies, transfers school safety programs to the education department, allows our state legislature to make university trustee appointments, and clarifies the roles and organizational structure of the superintendent of public instruction and board of education – hardly extreme changes.”

Even if Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper decides to fight the new law, the GOP-controlled Congress would likely waylay his efforts. The bill passed the General Assembly by a near party-line vote, 61-23 in the House and 24-13 in the Senate, with many members absent or not voting in both chambers. One Republican, Wake County Sen. John Alexander, voted against the bill in the Senate. One Democrat, Bladen County’s own State Rep. William Brisson, voted for the bill in the House.

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.

By Chrysta Carroll