Elected state superintendent should have ultimate authority

Published 7:13 am Wednesday, March 4, 2009

By Staff
State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson offered a reading lesson to kids at Eastern Elementary School on Monday. She visited to celebrate “Read Across America Day” and honor the birthday of Theodor Geisel, better known as the inimitable Dr. Seuss.
Atkinson showed she’s learned a few things in her political travels, her display of skillful social interaction obvious as newspaper and TV journalists surrounded her.
Before reading to an assembled class of first-graders in the school library, for instance, she took time to ask many of them their names and offered tidbits about her own background. No doubt, some of this was typical political maneuvering, but in Atkinson’s case it seemed sincere and warm.
Atkinson, who’s embroiled in a controversy with North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue over Atkinson’s official state role, stayed after her first reading session to answer some tough questions from the press.
The controversy goes like this: The state constitution directs that every four years voters select a superintendent of public instruction along with other state offices. But in an odd twist, it also authorizes the state Board of Education to run the schools.
That train wreck ostensibly leaves two people in charge of the state’s schools with the potential for gridlock greatly magnified. Perdue recently exacerbated the problem when she selected State Board of Education Chair Howard Lee to accept a newly created position as executive director of the Education Cabinet.
Perdue then named Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Bill Harrison to the State Board of Education and asked the board to appoint Harrison as chairman and name him chief executive officer of N.C. Public Schools.
That leaves Atkinson, the person actually elected to office through the will of the people, as an “ambassador” (Perdue’s words) to public schools who will also chair a blue-ribbon committee on career development and workforce issues.
In the meantime, Atkinson has sent a letter to legislative leaders asking them to “restore authority” to her position.
They sure do.
We’re taking nothing away from either Lee or Harrison. As far as we know, they’re perfectly capable leaders — but they weren’t elected. We don’t need Atkinson to be a tea-sipping ambassador, though she seems to possess the charm necessary for such a role.
Voters chose her, we figure, to roll up her sleeves and get to work. Clearly, Atkinson feels the same.
In her letter to legislative leaders, Atkinson wrote: “It seems logical that an elected official would be able to select, organize and run his or her state agency. You can rest assured that the over 2.1 million voters who voted for me think I have the authority to run the Department.”
Seems logical to us, too.