Garner Cleveland Record

Renfrow hired with no contract; confident in the board

Ross Renfrow, left, speaks after being named the next superintendent of the Johnston County Schools. Next to him is Johnston school board member Larry Strickland.
Ross Renfrow, left, speaks after being named the next superintendent of the Johnston County Schools. Next to him is Johnston school board member Larry Strickland. jdjackson@newsobserver.com

Ross Renfrow, selected last week to step in as Johnston County School’s next superintendent, will not have a contract until February or March, closer to when he starts the job, the school board’s lawyer said.

Several days after his selection, Johnston County school system leaders said they did not know exactly how much money Renfrow would make when taking over the reins.

They said late last week that they had not drafted a contract and would be working out the details in the coming months.

“He won’t have a superintendent contract until he is officially superintendent,” said Larry Strickland, the school board chair.

Renfrow said he talked to school board members about what it would take to secure him, but no decision was made. Renfrow starts on March 1.

“I told them I needed as much as I could get because I’m a single parent with two daughters in college and one in the fifth grade,” Renfrow said. “They said they understand but they have to be good stewards with taxpayers.”

“I have good faith in the school board members that we will work something out between now and March 1.”

The decision not to have a contract differs from what has been done in the past.

Superintendent Ed Croom, whom Renfrow will succeed, was hired in December 2008 from within, knew his salary and had a contract signed that month. He started in March 2009.

But Allison Schafer, the director of policy and legal counsel at the N.C. School Boards Association, said it is not uncommon for a school board to hire a candidate without a contract initially.

“It happens,” she said. “I wouldn’t say it’s the norm. (It happens) particularly when there is an in-house candidate such as in Johnston County and they want to let the public know they are going to offer to somebody within the school system.”

Schafer said it recently happened in Martin County, where they hired somebody already working for the school district, and agreed to work out the details of the contract as soon as possible after the vote.

State salary schedule

Strickland said part of Renfrow’s salary will be in line with the state salary schedule.

Superintendents in North Carolina get a base salary based on the number of students in their district and their years of experience.

For school systems in the state with an average daily membership of more than 25,000 students, the maximum base salary for a superintendent would be $136,464. For superintendents with a doctorate, which Renfrow has, it would be a maximum of $139,464. The minimum would be $76,224.

Local school boards can supplement the pay with county funds.

Strickland said the Johnston board had not decided what that number would be for Renfrow.

“It’s been discussed but it won’t be any more than what Dr. Croom will be making now,” Strickland said. “We have got plenty of time.”

Strickland said last week that though the school board considered several names for the top job, Renfrow, a 22-year veteran, who has been second in command since 2013, quickly rose to the top.

Croom announced last month that he will retire March 1 to take advantage of a state pension program set to expire in August 2016. Employees who retire after that could lose tens of thousands of dollars in pension money.

Growing district

In the past decade, Johnston County Schools has grown to become one of the largest school districts in North Carolina and the second largest in the Triangle with about 34,660 students. There are currently 10 high schools.

Renfrow said he welcomes growth, but if it became too much, he would willing to look at measures that were proven to be successful for other school districts, while making sure the district is being responsible with taxpayer dollars.

Renfrow also plans to address the dropout rate, which has continued to drop in recent years and is among the lowest in the Triangle. In the past two years, 190 people dropped out of Johnston schools.

“One dropout is one too many,” he said. “I think we do a great job of recovering dropouts and we need to make sure we give them the resources they need to stay in school and graduate in a timely manner.

“We have to be more collaborative, more caring and compassionate because if we don’t, then that money is often spent on them if they drop out and go to prison.”

Renfrow began his career in Wilson as a teacher and coach at E.T. Beddingfield High School in 1988. In Johnston County he taught at South Johnston High School and Princeton High before moving into administration at Corinth-Holders Elementary in 1998.

He later served as principal of North Johnston High School, from where he’s a 1983 graduate, and Corinth Holders.

He said one of the strengths of the district are the people, including the students, family, teachers, principals, community leaders and district leaders.

“That is our most awesome resource,” Renfrow said.

Prior to becoming the deputy superintendent Renfrow served as executive director of administrative services in the central office.

“Since I am a 1983 graduate of the district, I’m humbled and honored that the district can hire one of its own and lead this school district,” Renfrow said.

Jonathan M. Alexander: 919-829-4822, @GarnerCleveland

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