RALEIGH — The N.C. Supreme Court has granted a temporary stay in a lawsuit involving State Superintendent Mark Johnson and the State Board of Education.
The board filed the lawsuit after passage of House Bill 17, which gives Johnson direct supervision over the public school system. Under H.B. 17, Johnson would have sole authority over the employment status of thousands of DPI employees. The board argues that runs afoul of the N.C. Constitution.
A three-judge panel ruled for Johnson in July and enacted a 60-day stay expiring in mid-September. SBE requested another temporary stay and was granted another 30 days. That stay expired Monday, but the N.C. Supreme Court granted a new stay without an expiration date.
“I am disappointed by the ruling and by the State Board’s continued defense of the status quo for our public schools.” Johnson said in an emailed statement.
State Board Chairman Bill Cobey said he was pleased with the court’s decision.
“I sincerely believe they did the right thing, and I appreciate the action they took. I believe HB 17 should not go into effect until they have a chance to consider the facts of the case and make a ruling,” Cobey explained.
Cobey said for decades the Board of Education and the superintendent have battled over turf, but nothing made its way to the N.C. Supreme Court to clarify their respective constitutional roles.
In 2009, then-Superintendent June Atkinson sued Gov. Bev. Perdue after the governor created a chief executive officer of N.C. public schools and appointed State Board Chairman Bill Harrison to the post. Atkinson argued successfully in Superior Court the Constitution puts the superintendent in charge of daily operations at DPI.
Perdue did not appeal the decision.
“I think it would not only serve this board and this superintendent well, but future boards and future superintendents too,” Cobey said. “I think that’s why the judiciary exists, to clarify what is constitutional and what is not constitutional.”
Cobey said a formal appeal is in the works and briefs will be submitted in a number of weeks, including a petition to go directly to the state Supreme Court.
“We are hoping [the N.C. Supreme Court] will allow us to bypass the Court of Appeals, so it will be heard in a timely fashion,” Cobey explained. “We look forward to this chapter ending.”
Lindsay Marchello is a staff writer for Carolina Journal.