Carroll Responds To School Board Chair Op-Ed

Kay Carroll, a candidate for the Johnston County School Board and former chairman of the Board of Education, issued the following written statement in response to Todd Sutton’s op-ed published on February 4th:

Facts are stubborn things: and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” John Adams – 1770

Four things a good school board member should know or learn quickly is:

1- You don’t have taxing authority.
2- You can’t borrow money.
3- You must live with a balanced budget and
4- You don’t pay recurring expenses (i.e. EC Children’s program, Teachers’ Supplements) out of fund balance!

Some facts:

In April of 2007, ahead of the bond vote, the list of upcoming bond projects was released to the public which included both Corinth Holders High School and Cleveland High School.  Plans for these two schools were virtually identical to West Johnston High School and the professional construction experts estimated the cost at $30 million each.

As soon as the bond passed, an offer was made to the school board for 100 acres in the Corinth area. The deal was a good one, so the land was purchased. Plans were finalized and put out for bid, but it did not take long before we began to realize that the steel and concrete cost increases were going to have a tremendous effect on these schools. Construction prices were spiraling upward based on the impact that the Chinese market was having on steel (increases up to 40%), concrete (up 25%), and copper (200%).  The bids for each school came in at approximately $15M more than our original estimate. We stopped everything until a decision could be made as how to proceed.

The board of education immediately contacted the county commissioners and asked for a joint committee meeting to discuss the issue. That meeting was held with a discussion of options – we could use some of the money originally planned for Cleveland and move it to the Corinth project since we already had the land, or we could stop both, or somehow we could come up with the additional needed funds and build both schools.

Wade Stewart was instrumental in saying that both schools needed to be built right then, and in addition, he wanted them to open at the same time. With strong support from the Johnston County Board of Education, the commissioners voted to borrow the needed funds and both schools were built simultaneously.  That one courageous decision by that group of commissioners has made all the difference in this county. Based upon the tremendous population growth both in the Cleveland and Corinth areas, the critical reader should ask, “Where would we be now without both Cleveland and Corinth Holders High Schools?”

When the lottery started, the proceeds were to be given to the schools only for construction which is how they were used in Johnston County for years. But as more and more counties took on debt for construction projects, a ruling came down that the funds, in fact, could also be used for debt service. At the point that the Commissioners took out the loan for the additional funds, the school board agreed that all lottery funds, from that time on, could be drawn down by the commissioners to help pay off debt service, especially the recent loan. Lottery funds still come to the county for debt service. Lottery funds have never been allowed for classroom expenses – only construction or debt service.

It is illegal for any Board of Education in the state of NC to borrow money – anytime, anywhere, for any reason. Only entities that have taxation authority can borrow money (cities, counties, and the state). The Board of Education did not borrow any money.

As far as 2008 being a tough year, yes it was. We had a major recession in this country. However, I do not remember a lack of funds from local, state, or federal sources. What I do know is that at the end of 2008-2009, the Croom/Strickland administration was left with a fund balance of over $24 million. We must have handled it well considering the positive fund balance left to the school district.

Editors Note: Mr. Carroll will release new information Friday in an op-ed on JoCoReport regarding Cenergistics.