Johnston school leaders have approved a local budget request for 2015-16. But the spending plan might require changes as state lawmakers decide the fate of a long list of education bills.
The Johnston County Board of Education on Tuesday agreed to ask County Commissioners for $60.2 million for the year ahead. The request is about $7 million more than in the current year. Part of the increase stems from pay raises approved last summer by the General Assembly.
Several bills currently before legislators could also affect the budget. Superintendent Ed Croom said one measure he’s especially concerned about would force the district to share more money with charter schools.
A provision in Senate Bill 456 would require school districts to share sales tax revenue, gifts and grants with charter schools. That’s money Johnston County schools currently keep in a separate fund that’s off limits to charters.
Charter schools, or nontraditional public schools that operate with tax dollars, are entitled to money from two funds local school districts use:
▪ The State Public School Fund, or money school districts get from the State Board of Education.
▪ The local current expense fund, or money school districts get from county commissioners for spending not covered by the state.
Charter schools are not entitled to money in other funds, including the so-called Fund 8, made up of sales tax revenue, reimbursements, gifts and grants.
Senate Bill 456 would repeal language that allows districts to have Fund 8 accounts. Without the separate fund, those sales tax receipts, gifts and grants would go into the local current expense fund and be eligible for charter schools to share.
As an example, Croom said, if the district wrote and received a grant for Smithfield-Selma High School, a portion of those dollars would have to go to the county’s charter school.
“It’s sort of pitting us against them in the funding piece,” Croom said. “We are all fighting for every penny we can get because things are that tight.”
Johnston County is home to one charter school, Neuse Charter. The district has to allocate money for students who live in the county and attend Neuse Charter or any other charter school.
Tony Gupton, chairman of the Neuse Charter School Board of Directors, said it’s premature to comment on the bill that would allow charters to share more funding. However, he said his school would like to see dollar-for-dollar appropriations.
In addition to not being able to share in Fund 8, charters aren’t entitled to capital funds for building projects.
“I’m not going to say one child deserves more than the other, but we just want to have a level playing field,” Gupton said.
Neuse Charter has about 750 students from seven counties. The K-12 school has a waiting list of about 400 students and expects to grow its enrollment to 800 next year, Gupton said.
For the budget year ahead, Johnston plans to allocate about $1.6 milllion for charter school students who live in the county. That’s about $521,000 more than this year.
The budget also includes about $400,000 to support virtual public charter schools. Earlier this year, the State Board of Education approved two virtual public charter schools that can begin enrolling students this fall. Traditional public school districts have to help pay the bill for local students who sign up.
Another question in the school system’s next budget is how the state will treat driver’s education funding.
Starting July 1, the General Assembly plans to phase out the money it gives school systems for driver education. And since lawmakers aren’t allowing schools to drop the program, the planned cut is forcing superintendents to find ways to make up the difference.
However, Croom said he’s hearing that lawmakers plan to restore funding for an additional year.
“It’s my understanding they hope to use some unclaimed lottery money to fund driver’s education,” Croom said.
The state has given Johnston about $552,000 annually for driver’s education, an allotment that represents about 73 percent of the program’s cost. Under state law, the district could increase the driver’s education fee from $55 to $65. However, that would cover only some of the lost state funding.
As for teacher raises next year, the average pay hike will be about 8 percent, according to the budget. That will cost the district $366,000 more in salaries.
Johnston will also need about $815,000 more for teacher supplements. Like most other counties, Johnston supplements what the state pays its teachers. And because the supplements here are a percentage of base pay, they rise whenever the state raises teacher salaries.
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104
The Johnston County Board of Education on Tuesday approved the district’s next building plan. The $75.5 million proposal includes an elementary school in the Flowers Plantation area, a Powhatan Middle School in Clayton, 12 classrooms each at Corinth Holders High School and Cleveland High, and a 12-classroom addition at Archer Lodge Middle School.
Superintendent Ed Croom said he will work with Johnston County Manager Rick Hester to hold a bond referendum in 2016 to pay for the projects.