Questions swirling around SBOE chair's new job

WAKE COUNTY Last year, the State Board of Education chair lost his then-newly-created post as CEO of the Department of Public Instruction after a court fight with state superintendent June Atkinson, who was elected to lead North Carolina schools.

After the lawsuit, Board of Education Chair Dr. Bill Harrison kept his chairman duties and $15 a day, but now he is helping Atkinson watch the money for the federal grant Race to the Top --earning him a hefty $90,000 pay raise.

"$400 million is a lot of money, but this is about more than the money, it's about our opportunity to truly transform schools in the state of North Carolina," Harrison said.

North Carolina schools hope to finish first under the Race to the Top program. The goal is to recruit quality teachers, improve low performing schools and prepare high schoolers for college.

But it's Harrison's paycheck that's raising eyebrows.

"This looks like political patronage and cronyism," said Director of Education Studies with the John Locke Foundation Dr. Terry Stoops.

Stoops says Harrison's new job isn't new to the Department of Public Instruction's staff.

"If we just trust the experts that we already have in place, then we would not have to spend tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in creating new positions," he said.

"There's going to be high level scrutiny from the federal government," Harrison said. "We expect high level scrutiny from our public."

Harrison tells ABC11 Eyewitness News he plans to hire an analyst and two auditors to help him and he promises his job won't overlap with Atkinson, who'll handle the day-to-day operations of the federal funds.

"It'll be clear to see that this is not the same old thing," Harrison said. "I think the role I'll be playing is very similar to the role that Dempsey Benton and his staff played with the stimulus money."

"But that's not saying much, because we haven't heard much from Dempsey in the last few months," Stoops said.

In addition to Harrison's new salary, paid out of the federal race to the top funds, Stoops also questions whether Harrison is still collecting his state pension.

"If he is indeed double dipping from the system, then there are serious consequences for those in office right now who appointed him to this position," Stoops said.

A position that Harrison promises is well worth his time and taxpayer money.

It's unclear if Harrison is still collecting his state pension from a previous job in addition to his new salary. But, he's allowed to as long as his combined income doesn't exceed state limits.

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