The State Board of Education’s decision to hire away Durham Public Schools’ deputy superintendent for academics, Stacey Wilson-Norman, has placed the 17-year DPS veteran in the middle of a big-time power struggle between the board and State Superintendent Mark Johnson.
On Thursday, the day Wilson-Norman was named chief academic officer for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI), Johnson told reporters that he “encouraged” the board to not make the hire because a “stay” of a Superior Court panel’s decision in a ruling favorable to Johnson is set to expire Sept. 12.
The judges ruled Johnson should have more control over public education operations under a new law approved by the General Assembly.
Under the law, Johnson will have the power to hire and fire top staff.
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“The stay on legislation that has tied my hands is going to run out on Sept. 12,” Johnson said. “I encouraged the state board to not act on this the week before the stay is lifted.”
The state board has appealed the judges’ ruling, and on Sept. 5 asked for an extension of the “temporary stay” throughout the appeal process.
In its motion, the state board said letting the ruling go into effect “will generate enormous disruption for our State’s public schools” and empower Johnson to unilaterally fire more than 1,000 state employees.
If Johnson eventually wins the lawsuit, he could reverse the state board’s decision to hire Wilson-Norman.
In a statement Friday, Johnson accused the state board of making “unsupported and exaggerated representations” in its latest court filing.
Johnson made it clear Thursday that his reaction to the hire had nothing to do with Wilson-Norman.
“Absolutely not,” Johnson said. “I have not met this person. I actually look forward to meeting this person. I was not involved in the process of hiring this person.”
Wilson-Norman declined to comment, other than to say she is looking forward to the new job.
“This is a great opportunity, but it’s bittersweet,” Wilson-Norman said. “My first love is DPS, but this is a great opportunity for me.”
Wilson-Norman said her start date has not been set.
State Board of Education member Eric Davis said the board couldn’t afford to delay filling the position of chief academic officer.
DPI faces a number of senior resignations and retirements as well as layoffs caused by meeting a $3.2 million budget cut required by state legislators.
“We’re already short-staffed,” said Davis, who chaired the committee that recommended hiring Wilson-Norman.
Davis added: We’ve had enough turnover. It’s important for the board to move forward to fill the positions that we’re authorized to fill. That’s what’s in the best interests of our students.”
Since the chief academic officer reports to both the superintendent and the board, Davis said a four-person search committee was formed. Davis said Johnson refused to serve on the committee.
“I made repeated requests – emails and phone calls – to him to participate in the process of selecting a chief academic officer and he refused,” Davis said. “The board is empowered to execute its duties today, so we did.”
On Thursday, the announcement that Wilson-Norman, was leaving set off a chain reaction in the top leadership ranks of DPS.
The school board went into closed-session to appoint its chief finance officer, Aaron Beaulieu, interim superintendent of DPS once Superintendent Bert L’Homme retires on Sept. 30.
Appointing an interim superintendent is something the school board, which hopes to interview four finalists on Sept. 23, had hoped to avoid.
School board Chairman Mike Lee said the move became necessary with Wilson-Norman’s impending departure because the district had already lost its other deputy superintendent, Hugh Osteen, to retirement.
In the months since L’Homme announced his retirement, there have been several high-profiled retirements and interim appointments.
Beaulieu was already serving as the deputy superintendent of operations to cover for Osteen who went out on long-term medical leave before retiring last month.
Paul LeSieur, executive director of budget management services, was been named interim finance officer to fill in for Beaulieu.
Thomas Crabtree, assistant superintendent of Human Resources, also went out on long-term medical leave and Kimberly Hager was named interim executive director for Human Resources.
Also, Alisa McLean, a top area superintendent, was named superintendent of Granville County Public Schools.