At a meeting last week, members of the State Board of Education complained about the legislature’s cutting millions of dollars of the Department of Public Instruction’s budget, which they said had harmed staff and students. But Superintendent Mark Johnson, a Republican elected last November, turned aside their pleas for him to intercede with lawmakers. Instead, he told them, he’d found that the DPI was wasting tons of money.

“‘In my time as state superintendent, I have found a lot of things that I’ve found disturbing about this department,’ Johnson said. ‘I will not go into the long list of them, but one little item that I can point out is our SurveyMonkey accounts.’ Johnson explained that the agency uses the online tool to send out surveys to principals, teachers and others to get feedback on important topics. Instead of the agency sharing one account, Johnson said he discovered it was paying for nine accounts. SurveyMonkey plans cost anywhere from $0 for a basic account to nearly $1,200 a year for a premier plan. DPI’s accounts varied in level.”

At maximum, that waste amounts to maybe ten grand. Where’s the rest? “WRAL News asked the superintendent to provide other examples of spending that he has found disturbing since he took office in January. Lindsey Wakely, the superintendent’s senior policy advisor and chief legal counsel, said they did not have a pre-existing document tracking or detailing any examples, but she agreed to put together a list. … Extensive conference-related costs, such as: Paying excess rates for conference speakers. Large sums for meals and room rentals. $25,000 to sponsor World View Symposium held by UNC. $2,500 to sponsor one episode of a single-market television program. Overhead charges paid to hire personnel through intergovernmental contracts rather than directly hiring personnel, which would cost DPI less. Reversion of over $15 million in Excellent Public Schools Act funds that could have been used to support early childhood literacy.” (The latter means that the board did not dole out nearly money over two years designated for childhood literacy efforts, but it’s not wasted money, per se.)

What does this mean for the education system in North Carolina? Earlier this year, the legislature cut the DPI’s budget by 6.2 percent this year and 14 percent next year, $10.5 million in total reductions.

“Last week, state board member Eric Davis … told the superintendent of a recent conversation he had with an unnamed education leader in the General Assembly. ‘I brought up these cuts and said, Is there anything we can do to avoid this? And this education leader said if the state board and the state superintendent came together to the General Assembly and said, Enough is enough. We can’t serve our students and absorb another cut, that would have great weight in the General Assembly,’ Davis said. ‘So I would suggest we take this education leader up on his advice.’”

The bottom line is if Johnson is uncovering waste and duplicative spending, that’s great. But it does not appear that the waste he’s identified thus far would equal or surpass the legislature’s cuts.