• 50°

Other voices: Working in the dark

State school Superintendent Mark Johnson might be in the wrong job. Instead of in Raleigh, perhaps he should be in Washington, handling White House security.

We doubt there’d be any leaks on Johnson’s watch — or any other kind of information.

Since defeating Democrat June Atkinson back in November, Johnson — a lawyer who once taught school — has been running a tight ship at the Department of Public Instruction.

Just recently, he ordered his department’s staff to stay off their email server for the entire month of July, saying they would “take a break in the distribution of information to the field and to other lists for stakeholders.”

This struck lots of former employees — and members of the N.C. Association of Educators — as more than a trifle odd.

July is normally a busy month for the Department of Public Instruction. These might be the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, but at this point the opening of the fall school term is only six weeks away.

State education officials have to sort through all sorts of new rules that The Honorables, in their wisdom, just imposed upon them, including 24 mandatory reporting requirements.

Johnson says the staff will communicate as necessary in other ways — by quill pen, perhaps, or carrier pigeon?

And besides, he’ll still email out public meeting notices required by law and updates to the student information system, which includes end-of-year requirements for the schools.

Otherwise, with the department’s communications director just retired, and the office vacant, all communications have to pass directly through Johnson’s office to be approved.

Vladimir Putin would be impressed.

Why the security crackdown? There are some possibilities.

A darling of the Republican faction running the state Senate, Johnson will be enforcing changes in the department required under the newly adopted state budget.

This will include budget cuts, even as the state’s total school enrollment grows, and the elimination of several specific posts in the department’s hierarchy.

By coincidence, many of these happen to have been filled by known associates of ex-Superintendent Atkinson and of state Board of Education chairman Bill Cobey, a Republican ex-congressman who has run afoul of the party’s current flavor of orthodoxy.

Apparently a lot of work needs to be done in the dark when nobody’s watching and cowed employees aren’t talking. It’s hard to see how any of this will do much good for North Carolina’s students.

Maybe Johnson could muster a tweet.

— The StarNews of Wilmington



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