The NC education board makes staff moves against the backdrop of a lawsuit

N.C. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson
N.C. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson

A crack in the frosty relationship between state education leaders revealed itself Thursday when the State Board of Education made a job change the state superintendent wanted.

The board voted to allow state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson to select a chief of staff without board approval. The new chief of staff will report only to Johnson rather than to both him and the board. The board voted to add a new administrative position in the state Department of Public Instruction that will report to both the board and the superintendent.

“I want to thank the board for allowing me to hire my chief of staff,” Johnson said.

The board and Johnson have been tangling over who is in charge of the state education department. The board is suing the state over a new law that stripped it of some of its powers and gave them to the newly elected superintendent. Johnson joined the lawsuit on the state’s side. Johnson has been chafing under policies that require the state board to approve job candidates for top administrative jobs. Johnson said in a recent affidavit that the policies were preventing him from doing his job.

The court put the legislative changes on hold. A June 29 hearing is scheduled in the case.

Board Chairman Bill Cobey said after the meeting that the board is working with Johnson on issues important to him.

“The characterization we aren’t working together is too extreme,” Cobey said.

Still, Johnson objected to the board hiring a new deputy superintendent, someone who will report to both him and the board. The board voted to make Maria Pitre-Martin, DPI’s chief academic and digital learning officer, the new deputy superintendent. Pitre-Martin replaces Rebecca Garland, who retired earlier this year.

Johnson said all candidates interviewed were “exceptional,” but he objected to the process. In the court filing, Johnson said the board decided to create a committee to select a deputy superintendent rather than go with the person he wanted.

Despite Johnson’s objection, only one board member, Amy White of Garner, voted against hiring Pitre-Martin.

Pitre-Martin has had several jobs at DPI, including director of K-12 curriculum. She left DPI for a few years to become superintendent of Thomasville City Schools. She returned to DPI in 2016.

In a first round of interviews for the job, six candidates were interviewed by phone. Three finalists had in-person interviews.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner