Mark Johnson

Johnson

State Superintendent Mark Johnson and other state education leaders have been sparring legally for months over how to administer Read to Achieve to elementary school students.

RALEIGH — The state school superintendent’s $928,570 “emergency purchase” of a controversial school reading curriculum earlier this week could be canceled because it lacked the approval of North Carolina’s chief information officer.

In a memo Friday, Patti Bowers, chief procurement officer for the state, said North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction “has not provided adequate justification for an emergency purchase.”

State Superintendent Mark Johnson sent an email message to school districts on Tuesday night saying DPI had executed an emergency deal for the Istation reading program “in order to ensure the continuation of our obligations under the Read to Achieve legislation.”

Johnson and other state education leaders have been sparring legally for months over how to administer Read to Achieve to elementary school students. Since 2013, students have read out loud to their teachers, who used Amplify Education’s mClass program to assess their skills. But in June, Johnson awarded a three-year, $8.3 million Read To Achieve testing contract to a different company, Istation, which tests students on a computer program.

Legal challenges followed. State elementary schools were left without a program to test students after a judge declined Tuesday to lift a court stay that blocked Istation from getting the new contract.

‘Strictly for an emergency situation’Johnson told State Board of Education members that he had to act to give clarity to school districts who are conducting Read To Achieve assessments right now.

“This is strictly for an emergency situation where you have to go make an immediate purchase of services, and if you don’t it will result in the cessation of an important program,” Johnson said.

But Bowers, in her Friday memo, rejected the idea that Johnson needed to take emergency action.

“If every contract signed after business hours constituted an emergency, the term would be rendered meaningless,” Bowers wrote.

Johnson’s Tuesday deadline

The memo said Johnson has until 10 a.m. Tuesday to provide the state Department of Information Technology with “sufficient amended justification” for the emergency purchase. The memo also said Chief Information Officer Eric Boyette could decide to cancel or suspend the purchase.

In a heated exchange with Johnson on Wednesday, board members questioned the amount of the contract and said they had been unable to get a copy from DPI staff.

“That clarifies that the state board didn’t have a role in this emergency procurement,” said Eric Davis, chairman of the state board. The contract is set to run until March 31.

This article is published through the N.C. News Collaborative, a partnership of BH Media, Gannett and McClatchy newspapers in North Carolina that aims to better inform readers throughout the state.

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