Perdue shakes up education system

January 26, 2009 2:10:44 PM PST
Governor Beverly Perdue announced a new direction for the state's education system Monday. She named Dr. William Harrison CEO of North Carolina's public school system and chairman of the state board of education. It's a brand new position that she called the most important job in the state at this time.

"We must have a trained workforce. That's how we stay competitive globally," said Perdue. "No student in North Carolina has permission to drop out of school."

Harrison is currently the superintendent of Cumberland County.

Cumberland County's board of education held an emergency meeting Monday to give Harrison a leave of duty, and started procedures to search for a new superintendent.

Harrison told reporters Monday that he's determined to see the state's children succeed.

"It's a moral imperative of ours that we do for every child what we would do for our own," said Harrison.

Perdue says her decision does not affect the elected office of State Superintendent which is currently held by June Atkinson. The State Superintendent's job has been labeled by critics as a figurehead position with no real power. Atkinson was elected by the people, but her powers are assigned to her by the State Board of Education, which has not given her the authority to run the state Department of Public Instruction as other superintendents have. Deputy State Superintendant J.B. Buxton runs the department and answers to the board.

Perdue told reporters Monday that she resents the figurehead characterization and said Atkinson will continue to perform a valuable role as an ambassador for public education.

She also said if the Legislature wants to address the constitutional issues of a state superintendent it's welcome to. She said she felt like she had to act now for the sake of the state's education system.

"We need to have a clear line of accountability and better structural support to implement new policies," said Perdue.

Meanwhile, Buxton, who's run the day-to-day operations of North Carolina's public schools for the past two years is stepping down.

He told colleagues Monday of his decision to leave to begin a new education organization.

Buxton told Board of Education chairman Howard Lee of his decision after the Christmas holidays but said he wouldn't step down until it was time to name a successor.

Buxton previously worked as senior education adviser to then-Gov. Mike Easley. He's also worked as an education adviser in the White House and for the Public School Forum of North Carolina.


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