She wants to consolidate power in state’s public schools
Published: January 27, 2009
RALEIGH – Gov. Bev Perdue said yesterday that she wants to retool the state’s public-school leadership by consolidating power with a new N.C. Board of Education chairman who would also manage day-to-day operations.
She proposed naming Bill Harrison, a current board member and the superintendent of Cumberland County Schools, to the new job, which would carry the additional title of chief executive.
Perdue said that the increased responsibility for Harrison would improve a 1.5 million-student education system — often criticized for its shared decision-making structure — by eliminating the lines between policy and operations.
“I believe the people of North Carolina believe that the governor … is responsible for education in North Carolina and the buck stops right now with me,” Perdue said.
“This is the most important job in North Carolina at this point in time,” she said of the new post. “He literally has North Carolina’s future in his hands.”
Perdue needs some help to complete the task. She appointed Harrison to the board, but the full panel must elect him chairman and give him the increased authority. Most of the current board members were appointed by former Gov. Mike Easley, but Perdue said she would be able to get approval.
“If I can’t deliver that, then I can’t deliver much of anything,” said Perdue, who was on the board the past eight years as lieutenant governor.
If approved by the board, Harrison could begin as early as next month, Perdue spokesman Tim Crowley said.
As part of the changes, current chairman Howard Lee would step down and take another new position as executive director of the N.C. Education Cabinet. That panel includes UNC system president Erskine Bowles and community-college-system president Scott Ralls, both of whom attended the announcement.
Perdue has said she wants to revive the panel to improve cooperation among leaders for programs from pre-kindergarten through higher education. Lee, a former state senator and Chapel Hill mayor, was appointed to the board by Easley in 2003.
One of Harrison’s top tasks will be to increase a high-school graduation rate in which three out of 10 students do not graduate in five years.
“We’ll do everything we absolutely can to make sure that not one of them drops out and they all have the opportunity to attend one of our community colleges, private institutions or university system,” said Harrison, who previously served as the superintendent in Orange and Hoke counties.
Perdue said that the post of deputy state superintendent would be eliminated. Deputy superintendent J.B. Buxton, a former Easley adviser on education, announced earlier yesterday that he was stepping down from the post that he had held for two years.
Perdue said that state schools Superintendent June Atkinson will continue in her role as an “ambassador” to other school officials and the business community to strengthen public schools.
Sen. A.B. Swindell, a co-chairman of the General Assembly’s education oversight committee, was pleased with yesterday’s proposed changes, saying that local education leaders did not know where to go in Raleigh to get help.