The Johnston County Board of Education wants county commissioners to spend more on the present while preparing to spend more on the future.
Last week, the schools formally requested $63.2 million from the county for the 2016-17 school year. That’s down $280,000 from early figures but still up more than $8 million over the current year’s local budget.
Higher salary supplements and capital costs driven by a half-dozen aging roofs are responsible for a large share of the increase. Throughout the process, Superintendent Ross Renfrow has said he feels he has the public’s support to increase Johnston County’s share of teacher pay, a move he hopes will reverse a trend of county teachers leaving for higher pay in other districts.
“We need quality teachers in the classroom so that our students will graduate with a Johnston County Schools diploma, prepared for college and career and most importantly life,” Renfrow said. “The quality of teachers are a key variable in that equation to success.”
Just a 1 percentage point increase in the teacher supplement would add $1.9 million to local school spending. Johnston will also pay more in total supplements based on Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed 5 percent increase in base pay for teachers. That’s because local supplements are based on a percentage of pay from the state. Increases driven by the state will add nearly $400,000 in salaries to the local budget and will drive up benefits and insurance costs by nearly $800,000.
Those increases and others bumped $600,000 Johnston had planned to offer in supplements to 40 teachers who earned their master’s degree after the state ended its 10 percent supplement for the advanced degree.
School board member Peggy Smith expressed her disappointment with the cut, believing the county missed a chance to distinguish itself from other school systems.
“I do appreciate how hard it is to do a budget, but I saw master’s supplements as a way Johnston County could be unique and perhaps draw teachers in,” Smith said. “You know that we are not meeting supply and demand. We have empty classrooms, you know, yet today, because we don’t compensate teachers. I don’t expect us to be a Wake County just yet, but I think that’s our goal, that we compete with our neighboring districts.”
Many of the local budget increases stem from state spending, but among Johnston’s discretionary increases are a new $80,000 media specialist and $19,040 to add five days of employment for county band and chorus directors.
Also in the budget: $65,912 in stipends for coaches leading Math Counts, spelling bees, Battle of Books and Science Olympiad teams and $206,782 for a 3 percent raise for locally paid classified workers.
The board also backed Renfrow’s request to move $2.5 million from the system’s savings account to its operating budget.
With a request of $3.9 million, the school system is asking for a capital-outlay budget more than twice what the county offered last year. Among the projects: new or repaired roofs at seven schools, paving at four others, plus a new air-conditioning unit at Selma Middle School.
“I know the folks in facilities have a daunting task each day to fix and repair, just like the situation in South Johnston,” Renfrow said, referencing a water line that burst in the school’s kitchen earlier this month. “Those things have to [be repaired]; school had to be in session the next day. When you have limited resources, it makes those kind of things even more paramount to stakeholders.”
The district also plans to buy two $200,000 activity buses and honor a request from band directors to double the amount spent on band equipment, adding another $150,000.
The school budget is now in the hands of the Johnston County Board of Commissioners, which has until July 1 to finalize funding for next school year.
Through the budget process, school board members wrestled with Johnston County’s increasingly perilous situation of building schools for new residents while the needs of older schools pile up. The 2016-17 budget doesn’t add many solutions to that debate, but school leaders promise it’s on their minds.
“We are a growing system and we’ve got a lot of holes we’ve got to plug up while continuing to manage the growth in an effective way,” school board member Mike Wooten said.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson