The Johnston County Public School Board is seeking an 11 percent general fund increase from Johnston County Commissioners even though enrollment is projected to drop by 1,250 students.
SMITHFIELD – The Johnston County Public School Board is seeking an 11 percent general fund increase from Johnston County Commissioners even though enrollment is projected to drop by 1,250 students.
The proposed $79,927,090 local budget was adopted May 11 by the JCPS Board and hand delivered to Johnston County Manager Rick Hester on May 14. An additional $2,962,000 is sought for capital improvements. Combined, that an approximate 13 percent increase in funding from the current fiscal year.
“It is with excitement and hope that we submit this message to you during a budget session that follows a year of extremely heavy lifting ... We are aware of the history of excellence that Johnston County and the Johnston County Public Schools has created and experienced,” stated Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy, Chairman Todd Sutton and Chief Finance Officer Stephen Britt in a joint letter to Hester, Johnston County Commissioners and County Finance Officer Chad McLamb.
“This district’s history tells us that we possess the stamina and the know-how needed to bring our schools into the forefront of educational excellence again. This is why we are convinced that we can achieve our goal of 100 percent of our schools rated as A, B, or C by school year 2023-24. As a matter of fact, we could get there even sooner,” the letter states.
“This journey will require a synergistic relationship in order to bring our goal to fruition ...”
In a May 17 meeting with Johnston County Report, Mr. Britt said the biggest uncertainty with the budget is what the General Assembly will approve this year.
Salary and supplement increases
The $79.9 million budget request includes funding to cover a potential state pay raise of 5% for teachers, or $1,938,407. With benefits that equals $2,993.991.
A one percent increase in teacher supplements is included at an annual cost of $1,749.634. For example, a current JCPS teacher with zero to eight years experience now has a 10.5% salary supplement. The increase would bring the supplement to 11.5%.
Bus drivers would make a minimum of $15 per hour under the spending plan, costing $641,500 more next year.
New Thanksgiving Elementary School
The opening of Thanksgiving Elementary School in August will add $387,954 in operational costs, Britt said. This includes two assistant principals, three front office staff salaries and benefits, and utilities. The state covers the salary of the principal, teachers and custodians.
By the end of the June 30, 2021 fiscal year, JCPS will realize a savings of $9 to $10 million due to COVID and the influx of additional CARES Act money.
$20 Million Fund Balance
Britt said JCPS will end the fiscal year with about $20 million in the bank. Compared to June 30, 2020, the school system had a $9.8 million fund balance. On June 30, 2019, the fund balance was $1.6 million and $6 million in reserves were spent during the same school year (2018-19) to balance the budget.
Historically, JCPS has significant growth each year. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction says 2020-21 will be different. They are projecting a decrease from 37,837 students this year to 36,687 next year, a drop of 1,250 students.
The state currently pays JCPS an average of $6,604 per student. The decrease will reduce funding by $8,254,463. To help offset the drop in revenue, the school board is proposing to eliminate 46 positions, primarily teachers. Due to the turnover rates, no teachers will lose their jobs. The positions will be eliminated through attrition. By not filling the 46 positions, JCPS will save $2,415,000, leaving the net expected loss of state funds at $5,839.463.
The current 2020-21 JCPS budget is $370.7 million and includes local, state and federal funds. State funds account for 68.5% of the budget, 19.4% local funds and 12.1% federal dollars, Britt said.
$2,962,000 in capital improvements are included in the 2021-22 spending plan, an increase of approximately 41% over the current year.
The improvements requested include:
Performance bonus to improve failing schools
In addition to the $79.9 million budget and $2.9 million capital improvements, the JCPS Board is seeking a four-year commitment from Johnston County Commissioners for an additional $3,639,500 maximum potential performance bonus reimbursement per year.
To incentivize and reward academic performance at 15 current public schools that have a failing grade (current “D” and “F” schools), the school board wants commissioners to reimburse personnel at the schools that meet stated goals each year.
For example, if a school with a “D” or “F” grade moves to a “C” grade, all employees at the school would receive $1,000 at the end of the year. If the school “met growth,” certified staff would receive an additional $1,000 or if the school “exceed growth” certified staff would receive $2,000, or a maximum of $3,000 per year per employee.
Full-time classified staff would earn half of that amount, or a maximum of $1,500 per year. This would include custodians, teacher assistants, front office staff, school nutrition and bus drivers.
The 15 schools include:
School board wants to keep $20 million balance
In the May 14 budget letter to the county manager and county commissioners, school leaders said they want to keep the $20 million in savings in their bank account for future needs.
“To further show fiscal responsibility for the funds that support our educational services, we commit to preserving and protecting our current balance. The bottom line is that a fund balance that is too low can hurt student achievement because the district will not have the ability to smooth our funding and cost swings from year to year. For these reasons, we ask that Johnston County Public Schools be allowed to maintain a fund balance of $20 million, or roughly 5.4% of our County, State and Federal operating budget, excluding Capital Outlay and COVID funding.
“We strongly advocate maintaining a healthy fund balance for good reason. Fund balance allows us to handle the inevitable financial challenges that we will face in the future. When a district has a small fund balance and experiences the volatility above, it has no choice to swing from feast to famine year to year. Programs, staffing, and services that are provided to students one year are cut the next year to balance the budget. This creates instability in the educational environment. A prime example of this instability will occur after CARES Act funding fades away.
“Johnston County Public Schools, like all school districts, will have to eliminate programs such as summer school, tutoring, and other supplemental programs that are no longer funded. Having a healthy fund balance will allow us to slowly transition, rather than abruptly end, many of these initiatives.
“Johnston County Public Schools and Johnston County are headed toward a more stable environment both educationally and economically. This budget request reflects our commitment not only to a stable environment but one that will support achieving our goal of having 100 percent of our schools with an A, B, or C rating by 2023-24,” the letter from Bracy, Sutton and Britt stated.
Johnston County Manager Rick Hester said Monday he hopes to have his budget proposal in the hands of County Commissioners, including his proposed funding amount to JCPS, within a week.