Under the Dome, the politics blog of The Observer's sister paper, The (Raleigh) News & Observer, had some interesting news today. Apparently some folks aren't very happy with June Atkinson, North Carolina's state schools superintendent. And those folks are fellow Democrats.
According to the Dome, Progress North Carolina, a liberal advocacy group, is ticked off at Atkinson about her silence on Republican-driven education budget cuts this year. Tuesday, as Atkinson appeared before a legislative committee, Progress NC sent a statement asking her for action. "As state superintendent, it's her job to be the state's biggest advocate for public schools," said Gerrick Brenner, the group's executive director. "Right now, June Atkinson is failing teachers and students, by not standing up to lawmakers who continue to hide behind false rhetoric after they slashed school budgets."
The Dome also said Mecklenburg Rep. Tricia Cotham seems interested in the job, and when the Observer editorial board e-mailed about that she said yes she was. If Atkinson decides not to seek reelection, Cotham said she plans to run for the job.
She said that if elected she doesn't intend to be silent on education issues, even if faced with a legislature that's Republican dominated and not keen to her views. "I'm not going to go away," Cotham said.
But she said that she has gained good experience working across the aisle politically, and that would put her in good stead if she became state superintendent. Regardless, she says the state school superintendent should be an educator, and she would make the job a bully pulpit for education issues in a way it has not been.
Cotham has been keenly focused on education issues ever since she was elected and began serving in the N.C. legislature in 2007. Her interest is well-rooted. She's a former teacher and assistant principal in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
All that's to say that she has great credentials for the job.
As for Atkinson, she battled mightily for the job when Gov. Bev Perdue tried in 2009 to elevate state school board chair Bill Harrison to CEO of North Carolina's schools. Atkinson sued on constitutional grounds, and won. But as superintendent of public instruction, Atkinson has only had nominal authority. The legislature regularly makes education policy by what it chooses to emphasize. And Harrison as a top Perdue adviser still manages to have more clout and visibility.
This editorial board still thinks the job of superintendent should be appointed - not elected. Cotham though does have the legislative skills, background and the outspokenness to give the job a higher profile than it has now - and get more done to benefit North Carolina's children. - Posted by associate editor Fannie Flono