Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Is there magic in N.C. schools superindent title?

N.C. schools' superintendent June Atkinson has proved she's a scrapper. But she might have to scrap mightily to return as superintendent for four more years now that she has belatedly decided to seek the job again. Word was out that she wasn't going to run again after two terms but today she threw her hat back in the ring.

She caught two Democratic colleagues off-guard when she changed her mind. Both Mecklenburg's own Tricia Cotham, a state House member, and Rick Glazier, a House member from Cumberland County, had said they planned to run. Glazier said he still will. But I talked to Tricia Cotham today and she said: "I'm keeping my word." That word was her promise not to run if Atkinson decided she would.

Cotham had said a few months ago that she thought the superintendent's job was a good "bully pulpit" to talk about and fight for education issues. We said then that she had great credentials for the job, having been a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools former teacher and assistant principal. 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.

Atkinson seemed unlikely to run. She hasn't raised any money and hasn't really been around touting a campaign. Her fellow Democrats have been disaffected with her performance. It was reported that Progress North Carolina, a liberal advocacy group, was ticked off at Atkinson about her silence on Republican-driven education budget cuts the past year. When Atkinson appeared before a legislative committee, Progress NC sent a statement critical of her. "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."

Atkinson apparently loves a fight though. She hung in through seven months of litigation when she was first elected in 2004. A Republican challenger contested the close election results. She also fought back in court when Gov. Bev Perdue tried to usurp her position by elevating school board chairman Bill Harrison to CEO of North Carolina's school and relegating her elected superintendent 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.

Rumor has it that there is no love lost between Atkinson and Perdue. And with some Dems not too pleased with her work performance, Atkinson might find it a battle royal to get reelected this time. At least three Republicans also have said they want the job.

All the interest in the job is surprising, given that the position, at least under Atkinson, has had a low profile and not very much clout. Most education policy is done by legislators and the governor who has control over millions in federal dollars through Race to the Top and other grants. And Harrison as chair of the Governor’s Education Transformation Commission still manages to rival the state education superintendent in power despite the court ruling.

Is there some magic in the title? This election season promises to be a lively one in many ways.

- Posted by Fannie Flono


Wiley Coyote said...

Hey ummmm... Progress Carolina?

Where is your outrage over one of your liberal cohorts, Perdue, who robbed the EDUCATION lottery of $50 million?

It doesn't matter who the state "Super" is as long as the Federal government is in control.