Johnston County

Schools sign contract with new superintendent

Ross Renfrow, left, speaks during a news conference after his hiring as Johnston County’s next superintendent of schools. At right is school board chairman Larry Strickland.
Ross Renfrow, left, speaks during a news conference after his hiring as Johnston County’s next superintendent of schools. At right is school board chairman Larry Strickland.

Under a contract signed earlier this month, incoming Johnston County superintendent of schools Ross Renfrow will make the same pay as his predecessor, Ed Croom, who’s retiring next year.

Renfrow currently makes $110,660 a year as the school system’s second in command, a post he has held for a couple of years.

When he becomes superintendent March 1, his pay will nearly double, to about $204,000. And he will have the potential to make $12,500 more if he accomplishes the goals he and the school board set at the start of the contract year. Also, Johnston County will deposit another $10,000 annually in Renfrow’s retirement account.

Most of Renfrow’s salary will come from the state, which will pay him $139,500, North Carolina’s maximum for superintendents with doctoral degrees. Johnston County will chip in $64,750 as a local salary supplement, the same amount Croom receives.

That annual supplement, according to school board attorney Jim Lawrence, includes $20,000 cash, $15,000 for transportation costs, $3,060 for a cell phone plan, family dental and medical coverage, and more than $20,000 in contributions to the state retirement plan and Social Security for Renfrow.

School board chairman Larry Strickland said Renfrow deserved the same compensation as Croom based on his experience at all levels of the Johnston school system, including the last three in the central office.

“He had a working knowledge of all parts of the school system and would often handle the day-to-day operations for Dr. Croom,” Strickland said. “We’re the No. 1 employer in the county. I want to hire the No. 1 CEO in the county to lead a school system recognized as a leader in the state.”

Renfrow didn’t ask the board for a specific salary, but said he thought he deserved compensation similar to Croom’s.

The superintendent’s post is a dream job for Renfrow, who once served as principal of his alma mater, North Johnston High School. In the past, Renfrow said, he had entertained superintendent offers from other smaller districts for more money but opted to stay in Johnston County.

“Being superintendent of Johnston County is tied to the heart,” Renfrow said. “I’m passionate about Johnston County; I’m a native, and I don’t want to do this anywhere else.”

While Renfrow might be picking up the contract of a seven-year veteran, it’s actually the same salary structure Croom received when he became superintendent in 2008. Over the past seven years, Croom’s only pay increases have come from adjustments to the state’s salary scale.

The school board announced Renfrow’s hiring in November, a month after Croom said he planned to retire next March. Board members said it was important to them to make a hire internally.

“There are a lot of rising stars in our school system,” Strickland said. “At some point, they may make a good superintendent in Johnston County or maybe in one of the other districts in the state. But Dr. Renfrow was the best choice for us right now.”

The board didn’t immediately have a contract for Renfrow, who said he told board members he wanted to make as much as possible because he is a single father with two daughters in college and a son in elementary school.

And as recently as two weeks ago, school leaders said they would likely complete a contract next February or March. Strickland has since said the board completed a deal as soon as it met again.

“We had up until the time he started working to sign a contract,” Strickland said. “We needed to come back as a board and actually read the final draft of the contract, and Dec. 8 was the first time we had all been together since the hiring. We did it the first chance we had.”

Renfrow’s contract runs through June 2019. After the first year, the board can renew it for a maximum of four years. The school system will adjust his pay up to 3 percent annually if the state doesn’t grant pay hikes.

Other details of the contract include three weeks of vacation and travel reimbursement for mileage based on the federal rate of 57.5 cents per mile.

If the school board should fire Renfrow, he will receive severance pay for two years after the termination date or until the end of his contract.

In comparison to other superintendents in the Triangle, Renfrow’s total compensation is in the middle of the pack, despite the fact that he will lead the area’s second largest school district.

Wake County Superintendent James Merrill, who runs the largest school district in the state, makes the most. Durham Superintendent Bert L’Homme makes the second highest. Only about 1,000 students separate the Johnston and Durham public schools, with the former being the larger of the two.

However, before arriving in Durham in 2014, L’Homme had nine years of experience as a superintendent for two other school systems.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella, who oversees a district of about 12,000 students, makes the third highest salary. But his school district is one of the top performers in the state on year-end tests.

Orange County Superintendent Todd Wirt, who was hired in April, makes the least.

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