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Two formerly-high level DPI staffers out, another State Board member resigns

The Chief Financial Officer and former Chief Academic Officer of the state Department of Public Instruction are both leaving the department, and yet another member of the State Board, Greg Alcorn, announced his resignation today as well. 

Adam Levinson was made CFO by the State Board of Education in March 2017 following former CFO Philip Price’s departure back in February of 2017. Superintendent Mark Johnson was opposed to his hiring, according to an affidavit filed as part of a now-resolved lawsuit between the State Board and Johnson. You can read the affidavit, posted by WRAL.com, here

Stacey Wilson-Norman, who previously worked as deputy superintendent of academics at Durham Public Schools, was made Chief Academic Officer of DPI in September of 2017. At the time of her hiring, Johnson opposed the Board making any new high-level hires until the lawsuit between he and the Board was resolved. 

Both Wilson-Norman and Levinson were effectively demoted as part of Johnson’s recent reorganization, with Levinson retaining his role but with less authority, and Wilson-Norman being reassigned to the lower-level role of division director of curriculum and instruction.

Drew Elliot, communications director at DPI, confirmed Wilson-Norman’s departure and provided a statement from Johnson. 

“Stacey has been a wonderful person to work with and we wish her well as she continues a long career of service to North Carolina’s public schools,” Johnson said. 

According to an article in the Fayetteville Observer, this month the Cumberland County Schools Board of Education voted to hire Wilson-Norman as Chief Academic Officer.

Elliot said he couldn’t comment on or confirm Levinson’s termination, but Bill Cobey, chair of the State Board of Education, said that Levinson has been terminated effective the end of this month.

Cobey expressed disappointment and said the State Board has no control over such decisions. 

“It’s a sad state of affairs, because he’s an outstanding employee,” Cobey said. 

Since the state Supreme Court upheld House Bill 17, the legislation that transferred certain powers from the State Board to Johnson, and since Johnson’s reorganization, the State Board has been taken out of the loop when it comes to decisions regarding DPI. 

Keith Poston, president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, said the staff departures from DPI are not surprising. 

“The role of the State Board of Education versus the state superintendent in terms of who can hire and fire and staff the department was really one of the key points of contention in the legislation and in the lawsuit,” he said.

Given the resolution of that lawsuit — filed by the State Board over House Bill 17 — Poston said it makes sense that Johnson is moving to staff DPI the way he wants.

He did point out that one of the contentions of the State Board in the lawsuit was that if it lost, Johnson would move to make changes at DPI and there might be dismissals at the department.

“That is in fact happening,” Poston said, adding that Johnson has made a “compelling case” that since he is the elected superintendent, he should have the power to hire and fire. 

Also since the resolution of the Supreme Court case and reorganization at DPI, Cobey, as well as Board Member Becky Taylor, both announced their resignations. Today, Board member Greg Alcorn added his name to that list, announcing his resignation in a letter to Governor Roy Cooper.

Alcorn said in his letter that his main reason for resigning is so that he can work more with his early childhood non-profit ApSeed. 

“ApSeed is designed to provide ‘Kindergarten-ready’ children to our fine public schools in North Carolina. I firmly believe that ApSeed can have a generational, positive impact to help eliminate achievement gaps. My belief in ApSeed and its impact compels me to devote my community service time to this non-profit,” he wrote. 

He went on to write about his experience on the State Board. 

“It has been my pleasure and honor to serve on the NC State Board of Education, during the past 5 + years. My service on the Board has informed me of the many challenges in education and has been invaluable. I firmly believe in the constitutional responsibilities of the State Board of Education and am sure your new appointee will continue to deliver on those responsibilities,” he wrote in his letter. “It has been an honor to  serve with such an outstanding group of board members who have faithfully made their first priority the interest of our public school children. I will miss serving with them.”

September’s State Board meeting will be the last for Cobey, Taylor, and Alcorn. All three have served on the Board since 2013, and all of their terms last until March. 

Poston said these departures are far more interesting since all three were appointed by Republican Governor Pat McCrory and are now clearing the way for Cooper to replace them. 

“It really speaks to the growing differences between Republicans on the State Board and Republican leadership,” he said. 

Since the vacancies have occurred prior to the end of the Board members’ terms, Cooper can appoint new members to finish out their time on the Board without seeking legislative approval. Appointees to the State Board require legislative confirmation if they are being appointed to full terms, but not if they are filling a premature vacancy.

That may be particularly helpful to Cooper, who has had trouble getting his appointees through the General Assembly.

Cooper had appointed three other Board members to the Board back in May 2017. One Reginald Kenan, was already serving on the Board and was confirmed during this past short session of the General Assembly. But two, J.B. Buxton and Sandra Byrd, would have replaced Board members Wayne McDevitt and Patricia Willoughby, whose terms expired at the end of March 2017. Both of the new appointees were rejected by the General Assembly during the short session. Both McDevitt and Willoughby have remained on the Board in the meantime.

Poston said it looks like the resignations are “by design,” to give cover to Cooper to appoint who he wants. It’s possible that any replacements named would get to serve on the Board well beyond the March expiration of their terms, depending on how quickly they or other replacements are confirmed by lawmakers. 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.