Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tricia Cotham: N.C. school superintendent?

Under the Dome, the politics blog of The Observer's sister paper, The Raleigh News and 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.

That's right. It's her fellow Democrats who are apparently disaffected. 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. Today, 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 I e-mailed her about that she said yes she was. If Atkinson decides not to seek reelection, Cotham said she plans to run for the job.

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. The youngest female to ever hold public office in North Carolina, she is vice-chair of the education committee and has co-sponsored or sponsored several pieces of legislation on education and children's welfare over the years.

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 and relegate the elected school board job to a largely ceremonial role. Atkinson sued on constitutional grounds, arguing that Perdue did not have the authority to put Harrison in charge of schools. She won that case, but Harrison remained as chairman of the state school board.

This editorial board has posited that the case really didn't answer a long-lingering question of who ought to be in charge of public schools - and thus who ought to be accountable to the public. Atkinson as Superintendent of Public Instruction at least nominally has that authority, but the legislature also regularly makes education policy by what it chooses to emphasize. And as a top adviser to Perdue as he chairs the Governor’s Education Transformation Commission which oversees the state's $400 million in federal Race to the Top funds, Harrison still manages to have more clout and visibility than Atkinson anyway.

This editorial board still thinks the N.C. education governance system is screwy, and that the job of superintendent of public instruction should be appointed - not elected. Cotham though does have the legislative skills, education 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


Wiley Coyote said...

What's comical about this is that Democrats did nothing to Bev Perdue robbing the Education Lottery to fund other state projects to the tune of $88 MILLION dolars.

Democrats; hypocrites to the end.