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Judge sides with Atkinson in education authority lawsuit

Shortly after taking office, Gov. Bev Perdue attempted to clear up who's in charge of North Carolina's education system. She created a new position called CEO of Public Schools to run day-to-day operations of the Department of Public Instruction. She appointed Bill Harrison to the position, and also named him chairman of the state board of education. In response, Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson filed a lawsuit. She argues that education authority rests with her office. And today, a Wake County superior ruled in favor of Atkinson. WFAE's Greg Collard reports: The ruling gives Atkinson more authority than she's had during her five years in office. Since the mid-1990s, the state board of education had hired a deputy state superintendent to run the daily operations of the Department of Public Instruction. That setup caused a lot of confusion, which is why Perdue's action was widely praised in January by people in education circles, like Ed Dunlap of the North Carolina School Boards Association. "There was uncertainty about who was in charge. Was the state board in charge? Was the superintendent in charge? Was the deputy state superintendent in charge? There was uncertainty about who to go to," Dunlap told WFAE in January. But the ruling by Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood makes clear who's in charge. And it's not the deputy superintendent or CEO of Public Schools Bill Harrison. It's Superintendent June Atkinson. "I believe that the judge made clear in his ruling that the state superintendent shall be responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the Department of Public Instruction and I see it as my role to carry out the policies set forth by the state board of education," Atkinson says. She says that includes leading an effort to change the standardized testing system and revise curriculum - the type of duties she says that voters elected her to do as opposed to the figurehead she had become. Gov. Perdue declined to comment beyond issuing a statement that says she looks forward to working with Harrison and Atkinson. Former CMS school board member Lindalyn Kakadelis praised the ruling. She now heads the North Carolina Education Alliance, which is part of the conservative John Locke Foundation. "Everyone that knew what was going on in Raleigh knew that the governor was going right over the head of June. Creating a whole new position, and whole new layer of bureaucracy - that doesn't help the situation. That adds to it," Kakadelis says. Harrison declined to comment on the ruling. But in February, he told WFAE "I'm not sure how many voters actually know who the state superintendent is." That may change if Atkinson retains her new authority. The attorney general's office plans to appeal the ruling on behalf of the state.