State Superintendent and State Board of Education Still At Odds Over Court Ruling

Jul 3, 2018

Tension between State Superintendent Mark Johnson and the State Board of Education has not improved since the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in a case between the two. If anything, the tension is rising.

In early June, the Supreme Court gave its decision in a case to settle a power struggle between the State Board of Education (led by Republican Chair Bill Cobey) and Superintendent Johnson (also a Republican). The Court sided with Johnson and the state of North Carolina in declaring a law that gave his position more direct control at the Department of Public Instruction constitutional. However, the effect of that ruling remains unclear. The ruling also restated - as it says in the North Carolina Constitution - that the State Superintendent is the secretary and chief executive administrator of the Board which has primary authority to administer the public schools in accordance with law:

...It appears to be the clear intent of the Constitution that the State Board shall have the primary authority to supervise and administer the free public school system and the educational funds provided for the support thereof, and that the State Board is empowered to make all needed rules and regulations related to each of those functions, subject to laws passed by the General Assembly. It also appears clear that as secretary to the State Board and chief administrative officer of the State Board, the Superintendent is primarily responsible for overseeing the day-to-day management and operations of the state’s free public school system.

- Opinion of the NC Supreme Court

Both sides have claimed victory in the case, and their attorneys have been working out the interpretation and practical implications of the ruling in the weeks since.  

Monday night, Cobey released a statement saying that Johnson has rebuffed the board's invitation for cooperation - and instead sought help from the legislature. A little-noticed provision in House Bill 364 - an act that clarifies a wide variety of regulations -  which became law last week, "repeals State Board of Education policies inconsistent with state law."

Here is Cobey's full statement.

Here is Johnson's full statement, released within minutes of Cobey's:

"The Supreme Court of North Carolina unanimously and clearly ruled against Chairman Bill Cobey’s lawsuit. Despite losing his lawsuit, Chairman Cobey appears determined to ignore the will of both the General Assembly and the Supreme Court of North Carolina and continue to waste taxpayer dollars on his frivolous lawsuit. The state of North Carolina and Mark Johnson won. Cobey lost. Mark Johnson will manage the N.C. Department of Public Instruction with the full authorities granted to the superintendent per House Bill 17."

The bottom line is that this power struggle between the leaders of North Carolina's public schools, though technically settled in court, has not settled down into a spirit of cooperation.