EDITORIAL: Perdue Didn't Need Education Stumble
By losing a power struggle over who runs the state's schools, Gov. Bev Perdue has suffered a painful stumble at a time when she least needs one.
A Superior Court judge has ruled that authority over the schools rests squarely with June Atkinson, the duly elected superintendent of public instruction, and not with Perdue's appointed education czar, William Harrison.
Perdue is wise to yield to that decision, lick her wounds and refrain from pursuing any further efforts to tinker with constitutional issues and a murky state law. She has far more important state business calling for urgent attention.
Among other unfortunate effects, this episode is sure to inflict further damage on Perdue's popularity ratings, which have already been nosediving lately.
A Costly Duplication
In a time of economic crisis, a management dispute between the governor and another top state elected official is the last thing North Carolina needs. Nor did North Carolina need to be paying healthy salaries to two individuals charged with almost identical jobs with a recession on.
Other state employees are facing job cuts, furloughs and wage reductions. Such duplication of services, with paychecks in six figures, just serves to worsen the credibility of the leadership in Raleigh with state personnel.
The loser in this miserable situation is Harrison, the Fayetteville educator tapped by Perdue to serve as chief executive officer of the schools. He came to the new position with glowing recommendations only months ago. Now, in the wake of the court decision, he has agreed to retire as state education CEO at the end of August but to continue to serve as chairman of the State Board of Education. He is forgoing his $265,000 annual salary, which was even higher than the superintendent's.
No one questions the need for the best possible leadership when it comes to the public schools of North Carolina. But clearly the state did not benefit from the creation of unnecessary confusion about the direction public education should follow.
Voters elected Atkinson as state superintendent, and that should have settled the matter. If she is not up to the job, that's a matter for the voters to settle in the next election. If issues of policy or strategy arise, surely those questions are suitable for consideration by the State Board of Education.
Forget the Turf Battles
Now that this conflict is off dead center, the superintendent must work to settle any policy differences between her and the board. And just as she should be willing to negotiate, the board should likewise be anxious to work with her.
True, the language in the state constitution is vague and open to opposing interpretations, but amending that fundamental charter is a lengthy and involved process. It should be much easier to amend or repeal a law adopted in 1995 that further muddies the picture by describing the duties of the superintendent as subject to the school board.
Harrison was highly respected in the years he served as superintendent of the Cumberland County schools. Though his continued service as chairman may well create awkward moments as he and the board work with Atkinson, we hope any issues arising between them can be worked out amicably
Hurt feelings and turf battles are far less pressing issues than the welfare of the 1.4 million students enrolled in the state's schools.
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