Philip Price, Chief Financial Officer for the state Department of Public Instruction, is retiring effective March 1st.
He is just one of a number of high profile staffers who are leaving DPI in the wake of the turnover in power from former Superintendent June Atkinson to current Superintendent Mark Johnson, though that isn’t necessarily the reason for the departures.
“Anytime you have a transition in leadership, you have changeover,” said Vanessa Jeter, director of Communication and Information Services at DPI. She also added that there are all sorts of different reasons why people retire.
Price has worked at DPI for about 35 years in total and has served as Chief Financial Officer since 2002. He said his plan to retire was his own.
“It was a good time before the session gets going to allow the Superintendent to bring someone in to work with him,” Price said.
When questioned as to whether he asked Price to leave, Superintendent Johnson said State Board Chair Bill Cobey should be the one to answer. Cobey said that Price is leaving voluntarily.
“Philip has been talking about retiring for a number of years, and this is his decision to retire,” Cobey said.
Adam Levinson, chief of staff at DPI, worked closely with Price over the years and called him “the consummate professional.”
“He’s extremely well versed in public school finance. I learned a lot from him. Most of what I know I learned from him,” Levinson said. “I think he’s been a friend to the districts for many years, always looking out for teachers and principals and students, above all. He’s been a strong advocate for public education getting the resources it needs for many many years. So I would say he’s been a leader for North Carolina in that regard.”
State Board of Education member Wayne McDevitt worked with Price for years also and said that his departure is a blow to DPI.
“Philip is so committed to kids and to education and schools and public schools. The thing about Philip is that his heart is with kids, but he can advise at a strategic level,” McDevitt said, adding later. “I think his departure leaves a big hole in what we’re trying to achieve.”
According to DPI’s website, Price graduated from North Carolina State University in 1978 and worked at DPI doing accounting work until 1999, when he joined the fiscal research staff at the legislature. The website states that Price concentrated on public schools during his time on staff at the General Assembly before returning to DPI in November 2002, where he has worked under the leadership of superintendents Michael Ward, Patricia Willoughby, June Atkinson, and Mark Johnson.
Currently, the State Board of Education is engaged in a lawsuit over legislation passed during a special session in December that transferred some of the State Board’s power to the Superintendent. There is a temporary restraining order in place halting the transfer until a court can decide the case. The hearing is supposed to start June 29.
The court challenge involves, in part, the Superintendent’s powers to appoint and dismiss senior staffers at DPI. With the restraining order in place, Johnson would have to bring any possible replacement for Price before the Board for approval.
In addition to Price, two other high profile staffers are leaving — Deputy State Superintendent Rebecca Garland and Rachel Beaulieu, legislative and community affairs director for DPI.
Garland said her husband has Parkinson’s disease and is in declining health. She said that around November, his health started to get worse, but she wanted to continue in her role through Johnson’s transition to help with the changeover. But she said she made the decision to leave in November.
“It was around that time that I said, I’m going to make it through the transition, and then I’m going to retire,” she said.
Garland has worked at DPI for a total of 21 years, though not continuously.
After being honored for her service to the state by the State Board, Garland gave some remarks on her tenure and on public education.
“I’m a very strong proponent of public education. I do think it changes children’s lives and makes our state strong. And I do believe it’s our best choice, but it doesn’t just stay that way by itself,” she said.
She said action was needed to ensure that public education remained the best option for students.
“Saying that public education is the best choice is only a mantra if we don’t work at it,” she said. “And it’s the role of this Board and this department to make sure that it’s strong and it stays strong.”
Beaulieu is leaving to restart her old law firm. One of her key clients will be the Public School Forum of North Carolina, where she will be serving as senior policy advisor, according to Forum President and Executive Director Keith Poston.
“Rachel will bring a great deal of experience and expertise to the Forum’s policy work, and will definitely be a key player as we expand our reach across the state to provide in-depth analysis and real-time updates on key education policy issues that our state partners need to be more effective ambassadors for public education,” Poston said.
Also leaving DPI is Ken Gattis, senior research and evaluation coordinator. And WRAL reported that Human Resources Director LouAnn Phillips is leaving as well.