RALEIGH (AP) Legislators have the authority to shift substantial control over public schools that educate 1.5 million North Carolina students to the state’s elected superintendent, North Carolina’s highest court decided June 8.
In the latest chapter in a decades-long balancing act over who runs public schools, the state Supreme Court backed state schools Superintendent Mark Johnson. The 2016 law allowing Johnson to administer some education funds, oversee charter schools, and hire senior-level aides doesn’t violate the constitution, the court said. The decision means Johnson can manage day-to-day operations of the school system, subject to rules adopted by the statewide Board of Education.
“The General Assembly’s decision to assign additional responsibilities to the Superintendent does not interfere with the Board’s constitutional authority to generally supervise and administer the public school system,” Justice Sam Ervin IV wrote for the court.
None of the court’s seven justices issued written dissents. Chief Justice Mark Martin recused himself from the case because his wife works for the state education agency that Johnson heads.
The state constitution says the school board will “supervise and administer” public schools and the money to run them, while describing the superintendent only as the school board’s “secretary and chief administrative officer.” The superintendent’s seemingly lesser role has been the norm since North Carolina’s post-Civil War constitution was adopted 150 years ago.
But Johnson’s elevated role is OK because his actions and expanded voice in about $10 billion a year in education spending remain constrained by the rules and regulations the school board adopts, the court said.
The Republican-dominated General Assembly passed the law weeks after Johnson, also a Republican, was elected in 2016. The school board responded that lawmakers couldn’t diminish its authority without amending the constitution.
Politicians have moved several times in recent decades to undercut or sideline the elected superintendent, but voters have never been asked to do so in any of the three dozen constitutional changes since 1971. Lawmakers considered a constitutional amendment in 2011 to give the superintendent more authority, but ultimately couldn’t agree.
In a second setback for the 13-member school board, 11 of whom are appointed by governors, the Supreme Court ruled June 8 that Board of Education regulations are subject to review by a commission like most other government agencies.