Pay raises ratified for county's school staffs
The Johnston County Board of Education at its monthly meeting Wednesday ratified a new salary schedule for school-system employees that locks in pay raises agreed upon by the board over the past several months to retain and recruit workers in a tight labor market during a time of high inflation.
Highlights of the new schedule:
• All classified employees will get raises to $15 an hour or 4% of their current pay, whichever is greater.
• Teacher assistants and TAs doing double duty as bus drivers will be paid at the same hourly rate, ranging from $15.60 to a maximum of $17.74. That amounts to an average increase in pay of 20% since last August, noted Stephen Britt, the school system's chief of finance.
• Bus drivers who hold that job and none other with the schools will get $17.50.
• Long-term temporary substitute teachers and TAs will be paid $15 an hour.
• Certified teachers working as substitutes will be paid $140 a day while non-certified substitutes will get $120.
• Nutrition assistants may qualify for $100 monthly bonuses based on safety and attendance requirements.
Certified teachers, whose base salaries are paid by the state, will get raises ranging from 2.5% to 7.2% as a result of this year's budget adjustments by the N.C. General Assembly, Mr. Britt reported. As a result of the state's new schedule plus Johnston County's supplement, beginning teachers here will be paid $41,909. Meanwhile, "our most highest experienced teachers" will get the 2.5% raise, Mr. Britt noted.
Update on current staff vacancies
Brian Vetrano, chief of human resources for Johnston County Public Schools, told the board the system currently has 217 vacancies among its "classified" staff that includes teacher assistants, bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria and clerical workers – up from 181 at this point a year ago. Open positions for certified teachers stand at 121, up slightly from 118 three weeks prior to the start of school last year, he said.
To help recruit new employees, an Employee Referral Bonus plan is being put in place, Mr. Vetrano reported. Current JCPS employees will receive $1,000 for each new worker they recruit, provided those workers continue in service for at least five months, he said. Exempt from those bonuses are school principals and the HR staff because recruitment is already part of their ongoing duties, Mr. Vetrano added.
Project list adopted for this year's school-bond vote
Johnston's Board of Education at Wednesday's session approved the list of projects to be funded by the proposed $177-million bond issue on the ballot in November's General Election:
• A new high school in the Wilson's Mills area school administrators say would relieve overcrowding at six high schools: Smithfield-Selma, Clayton, Cleveland, Corinth Holders, North Johnston, and South Johnstond.
• A 23-classroom addition to Cooper Academy, a Clayton elementary school.
• A new elementary school in the Swift Creek area south of Clayton.
• An addition to Benson Elementary School.
• Safety and security upgrades, ADA improvements, and HVAC upgrades at schools throughout the county.
• A variety of improvement projects at Clayton High, Cleveland Elementary, Cleveland High, Four Oaks Elementary, Glendale-Kenly Elementary, the Innovation Academy in Smithfield (new windows), McGee's Crossroads Elementary, Micro Elementary, Princeton High, Riverwood schools, Selma Elementary, Smithfield Middle (HVAC), Smithfield-Selma High (tennis courts), South Smithfield Elementary (HVAC), South Johnston High, West Clayton Elementary, West Johnston High, and Wilson's Mills Elementary (HVAC).
Actually, the cost of those projects is larger than the $177-million bond amount and would require another $18.95 million from federal ESSER funds plus $8 million from the school system's reserves. (ESSER stands for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund resulting from economic-stimulus legislation passed by Congress in 2020 and 2021 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.)
Beyond that, a second bond issue would be sought in 2024 and and a third in 2026 to accommodate a projected increase of 9,479 students in Johnston County's public schools by the end of the decade, Brooks Moore, the system's chief of facilities and construction, told the board.
Ronald Johnson absent after disclosure of secret recording
He was the only member of the school board who didn't take part in Wednesday's monthly session, during which all the other board members, the superintendent of schools, and the system's chief financial officer lambasted Mr. Johnson and the online JoCoReport for an article published Monday under the headline:
Shocking Audio: Johnston Co. School Board Members and CFO Discussed Hiding Millions Of Dollars From Commissioners> (click on the headline to see the story)
Mr. Johnson had given two candidates running for Board of Education seats a recording he secretly made during one of several school-board Finance Committee meetings he attended this past spring where budgetary negotiations with Johnston's County Commissioners were discussed. The candidates, Kevin Donovan and Michelle Antoine, provided the recording to JoCoReport.
"In this recording, Lyn Andrews, Kay Carroll, and CFO Steven (sic) Britt are planning to hide $8 million from the commissioners in order to gain more money," Mr. Donovan told JoCoReport. "Money has been missing in the past and it appears history is trying to repeat itself if someone doesn't bring light to the subject."
Stephen Britt (right) stood before the school board on Wednesday to refute claims in the article. "We have been transparent in everything we've talked about" with county commissioners during negotiations prior to adoption of the 2022-23 county budget, he said.
The $8 million in question, he explained, involved a transfer from the schools' unspent reserves into the new year's capital budget – a move that enabled commissioners to forego an appropriation for school upkeep and repairs this coming year as they approved an increase of almost $5.7 million for school operations. The $8-million transfer requires a joint resolution from the Board of Education and the County Board of Commissioners – another element of transparency, Mr. Britt noted.
School board members responded with lots of praise for Mr. Britt's work since he came from Sampson County to Johnston along with Superintendent Eric Bracy two years ago. "I don't know of anybody with more integrity than you that has ever worked for this school system," said Ms. Andrews.
Mr. Carroll said the published article was "out of bounds" with allegations about hiding of funds by school personnel, Mr. Britt in particular. "I apologize to you for being dragged into this political mess," he told the finance director.
Referring to Mr. Johnson and others involved in the published article, Ms. Andrews said "it is my full intention to hold these individuals accountable for their actions."
Terri Sessoms, chair of the school board's Policy Committee, said Mr. Johnson's action in making the recording public runs counter to a state-required Code of Ethics for School Board Members, which includes a rule that board members "not make secret recordings, in any format" at school-related events or meetings. She said school personnel have been told that Mr. Johnson also has recorded confidential board sessions held behind closed doors on certain matters as state law allows.
Meanwhile, Mr. Johnson remains suspended without pay from his job as a Smithfield police detective while town officials continue to investigate undisclosed issues regarding his work.
WATCH the schools' YouTube video of Wednesday's school board meeting>
Chief Genealogist Becky Owens helps Steven Amchor sort out his family history in the Johnston County Heritage Center's relocated Reading Room, which has moved downstairs to the first floor in place of the exhibit hall that's being reassembled in expanded quarters in the former Rose's department store building.
Heritage Center rearranging furniture for expansion
It started out as the Johnston County Room inside Downtown Smithfield's Public Library before moving into the former home office of First Citizens Bank across the street in 2000. Now, to make room for additions to its collections of local history and genealogy, the center is up-fitting leased space a block away on Market Street for a separate museum component.
A "soft opening" of what will become a Johnston County Museum is planned for the weekend of October 7-9 in conjunction with the annual Ava Gardner Festival. Todd Johnson, the center's director, told the county's Heritage Commission this week that the opening exhibit will feature photographs and artifacts from the movie star's early years as the daughter of a sharecropper in the Brogden community.
The Heritage Center is renting the left-hand portion of the former Rose's department store from the Allen Wellons family for the museum. Donations coupled with assistance from the County of Johnston are paying for the transformation (the Heritage Center is a department of County Government).
Among the items being assembled for display are poster boards covering various elements of Johnston County history, including a panel on "King of the Moonshiners" Percy Flowers and salvaged artifacts like the neon sign from Four Oaks Drug Company.
The Rose's building, while not among the oldest of Johnston's historic properties, is nonetheless a Smithfield landmark. Built at the corner of Market and Fourth streets, Rose's held its grand opening there in 1964 (replacing a former location across Market Street from the Courthouse) but lasted only until 1979 when the business departed Downtown along with other retailers seeking greener pastures elsewhere.
Here's a 1960s photo from a Downtown Smithfield photo album assembled by Warren Grimes, current chairman of the Johnston County Heritage Commission:
"Trusted by families since 1977"
840 S. Bright Leaf Blvd. • 919-934-7164 • www.carrollpharmacy.com
WHAT'S COMING UP?
River Rat Regatta on the Neuse starts at 5 p.m. Saturday
The Town of Smithfield will host the annual River Rat Regatta at the Town Commons boat ramp on North Front Street. Contestants are required to build their boats solely out of cardboard, glue, and duct tape. Onlookers can enjoy live music and food trucks. Contestants may register just prior to Saturday's event, beginning at 3 p.m.
County Commissioners to address sewer capacity Monday
That's the main item on the agenda for the board's regular third-Monday session, which begins at 6 p.m. at the Courthouse. It's a follow-up to a lengthy discussion by commissioners last week and is expected to produce answers to questions about the county's future capacity for sewage treatment in light of unprecedented residential and commercial growth. The agenda includes attachments about upcoming water and sewer projects as well as suggested revisions to the county's Residential Sewer Service Policy. VIEW the complete agenda>
DEATHS & FUNERALS
Click on the name to read an obituary, usually posted by the funeral home
DAVID RAY CASSEL, 74 – died August 10
MARY FRANCES HOCKADAY SMITH, 82 – died August 8
REBECCA (BECKY) SUE TAYLOR GIBBS, 77 – died August 6
RASOOL KAREEM EDDINGS, 80 – died August 4
DENNIS SMITH, 69 – died August 4
EDNA RAE HUDSON JOHNSON, 96 – died August 1
A WORD (OR TWO) FROM THE EDITOR
Another "blast from the past"...
Scrolling through the Heritage Center's album of digitized Downtown Smithfield photos assembled by Warren Grimes (where I found the 1960s photo of the Rose's building shown above), I came across this gem showing Marvin Johnson's Cities Service station on the "Truck Lane" (today's Bright Leaf Boulevard) when gasoline was priced at just 28.9 cents a gallon! The structure behind the station housed Johnston County's last working cotton gin, which ceased operations in 1975. Thank goodness gas prices this week dropped well below the $4-per-gallon mark, the result of worldwide petroleum supply moving closer to consumer demand.
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