NC Superintendent Mark Johnson and his iPads are making news again.
In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, Johnson sent 200 of the tablets to students and teachers of hurricane-ravaged Ocracoke School.
Then on Monday, Johnson slid down the chimney for a surprise visit and photo opportunity at Junius H. Rose High School in non-hurricane ravaged Pitt County, dropping off 100 iPads for math teacher Tracy Moore, whom he said he “knew from a previous visit.”
At yesterday’s meeting of the State Board of Education, Johnson was asked some pointed questions by board chair Eric Davis, who wanted to better understand the selection process for iPad distribution:
“How do we respond when the question is, ‘Well, what criteria is used to make these awards and how does my school get into the queue to be considered for these awards?'” Davis asked.
“They can email me,” Johnson said.
“That’s the criteria?” Davis said.
Board members and the public are right to be concerned over the practice of one individual using taxpayer funds to arbitrarily hand out iPads as personal favors to teachers. This approach does not allow for the equitable distribution of resources that our students deserve.
Pitt County, for example, is certainly a high-need district, and 46.5% of students at Junius H Rose are classified as economically disadvantaged. But Pitt is ranked as a Tier 2 county by the NC Department of Commerce in terms of level of economic distress–and it’s surrounded by six other counties that are in even worse shape economically. I’m sure they’d also love some iPads in Wilson County. Or Edgecombe.
Unfortunately, time is running out for teachers in those Tier 1 districts to email Johnson and secure Apple’s latest technology for their students. The Department of Public Instruction purchased 800 of the tablets over the summer, which means only 500 now remain.
The superintendent says the 800 iPads came from money he was able to save because he is so awesome at being fiscally conservative, and he claims he has the discretion to use that money as he sees fit:
“We are doing such a better job with the operations of this department than was done in year’s past under previous leadership,” Johnson said. “Things are operating more efficiently and more effectively, and when you do that, you end up finding that there’s money leftover at the year, What I decided to do with that money at the end of the year, was to purchase iPads because they are something that’s in high demand, regardless of whether you’re a high school math teacher or if you’re a K-3 reading teacher.”
Johnson may need to answer some questions from the NC Office of State Budget and Management about transferring resources which the General Assembly has allocated for a specific purpose to separate government entities (LEAs) without authorization.
Even Santa Claus should be subject to checks and balances.