New positions, teacher raises and a lot of legislative uncertainty are baked into the preliminary budget that Superintendent of Schools Ross Renfrow gave to the Johnston County Board of Education last week.
The jumping-off point for the county’s education budget comes in nearly $20 million above local spending last year, with an initial funding request of $77.7 million. The county gave the schools $57.8 million last year after a request of $63.4 million.
At this month’s meeting, the school board didn’t delve too deeply into the proposed budget, saving serious talks for a May 1 work session. Renfrow presented his budget largely without comment but encouraged board members to study his proposal and be prepared to send a budget request to county commissioners by the school board’s May 9 meeting.
Renfrow said his draft came from conversations with school board members, a glance at what’s coming from the state and federal governments and last year’s kitchen conversation talks.
“This is a draft,” Renfrow said. “I never like to use the term ‘wish list’ because I would never be frivolous with the taxpayers’ money. This is an assessment of the things that we need and the things that are wanted in Johnston county public schools based on wanting to provide quality public education to each student.”
For the moment, the biggest increase in the proposed budget is really a question mark. In response to class-size changes from the General Assembly, Johnston is preparing to hire 85 new teachers to teach kindergarten through third grade, adding $5.3 million to the budget. With the new teachers, Johnston would also need more mobile classrooms, adding another $800,000.
The money could still come out of the budget, though, as the classroom-size mandate has caused a statewide panic and led to a bill still in the General Assembly that would allow school districts to keep the old limits.
In Renfrow’s proposed budget, Johnston would give its teachers another percentage-point jump in the local salary supplement. It would be the second year in a row Johnston upped its supplement for teachers by a point, though the point wouldn’t come cheap, adding $1.9 million to the budget.
Renfrow is starting with a number of salary increases, including increases for employees with advanced degrees, a 1-percent increase for assistant principals, bonuses for teachers and administrators at low-performing schools and increases of $1,500 to the base pay for principals, all adding up to about $5.5 million. More than $5 million of that is reserved for increases in pay for teachers with advanced degrees. The budget also anticipates a 5-percent increase from the state for teachers and a 2-percent increase for support staff, adding another $300,000 to the local budget. Johnston employs some teachers and support personnel with local dollars but must match any state pay raises.
Beyond the 85 potential teaching jobs, the budget allows for five new nurses, bringing the ratio to one nurse for every two schools, and seven new social workers. In all, the 12 jobs add $850,000 to the budget request. The district would add a webmaster at $63,000, an extra month of employment for high school athletic directors at $53,000 and a family and community engagement position at $62,000.
Beyond personnel costs, the only significant increase on the operations side is nearly $800,000 to upgrade Johnston’s internet infrastructure.
In last year’s budget, Renfrow set out to find a way to address a number of critical maintenance issues around the district, such as leaky roofs and aging cooling systems. Much of that work is already underway and will eventually total around $30 million. Comparatively, that leaves a fairly basic capital request in this year’s budget proposal, with Renfrow starting discussions at $1.3 million, with the greatest spending on furniture, band and athletic equipment and minor building improvements.
Charter schools spending looks to remain steady next year, as Johnston Charter Academy will open a year later than originally planned. With Neuse Charter still the only independent public school in the county, Johnston will send $1.6 million in local funding to that school based on per-student spending requirements.
Last year’s budget helped meet expenses by taking $5.68 million from cash reserves. While the amount isn’t as significant, Renfrow still expects to call on the district’s savings account to the tune of $3.5 million.