● School Board Funded At $72M But Could Go To $79.9M
● Commissioner Wood blasts school board for not educating students
● Commissioners Vote Themselves 17% Pay Raises
● Fire Department Tax Rates Going Up
● County Funds 2 State Positions In District Attorney’s Office
The Johnston County Board of Commissioners adopted a $282 million budget for fiscal year 2021-2022 during its regular meeting Monday night. The budget lowers the tax rate from 76 to 73 cents per $100 valuation but includes increases in water and sewer fees. The highlight of the budget discussions involved funding to Johnston County Public Schools (JCPS) and withholding some funding until the school board adopts a policy banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the public school system.
School board chairman Todd Sutton told Commissioners Monday night they were prepared to amend an existing policy to include the CRT ban if commissioners would fully fund their $79.9 million budget request this year.
Two citizens spoke during public comments urging all 7 commissioners to withhold funding from JCPS until they adopt an anti-CRT policy. One citizen likened the teaching of CRT to bringing Washington, DC politics to Johnston County communities.
In a motion by Commissioner Patrick Harris and seconded by Commissioner Fred Smith, they recommended funding JCPS at $72 million (their current level for the 2020-2021 fiscal year) again this year plus an additional $2.9 million for Capital Outlay. If the school board addresses three concerns they could receive an additional $7.9 million (matching their full $79.9 million request for 2021-2022) later in the fiscal year.
Commissioner Tony Braswell questioned why Harris and Smith wanted to withholding fund. “I don’t understand why. We just heard what the board chairman (Todd Sutton) has said. They will do this at their next board meeting. I believe them to be honorable people. I believe what they say… I’d like to know why we can’t go ahead and do the funding…”
The 3 Issues
Fred Smith replied school funding can be adjusted later this year, even next month. He said there are three issues the school board needs to address before funding increases. “There are three issues as I see with school budget that we need more facts. I’m not talking about promises, I’m talking about facts.”
“Number one. We need a policy that says in our school system we don’t teach the Critical Race Theory.”
“Number two. In the school budget, they assume, hypothetically assume, that the State will cut their per pupil funding 1,250 students. Each student is funded $6,604 and after adjustments 46 potential teacher loses. That $8,354,463, minus $2,415,000, leaves in their budget a projected loss, a projected of $5,939,463 and they are asking us to fund a projected loss, and we don’t know if that loss will materialize or not. We will be here, the Lord willing, when the State adopts its budget and when the State decides what its per pupil funding is, and if in fact the budget is cut, then at that time we will, and I assume, I pledge to, and you pledge to, fund any shortfall in the per pupil allowance.”
“The third item is the teacher salary increase. The teacher salary increase in the school budget assumes a 5 percent salary increase. We do not know what salary increase the General Assembly will pass and I’m suggesting we do for the school system the same thing we’re doing for the community college system. The community college system is saying in their budget, they are not going to budget any increase in salaries until they know what the General Assembly budgets. Then they would come back to us and ask for an increase based upon the percentage the General Assembly adopts. I propose we do the same thing with the school system, that when the General Assembly decides, whether it be 2 percent, 3 percent, 4 percent, whatever it is, the school system would then come with facts and then we would at that time approve those funds,” Commissioner Smith said.
“The only people presenting Critical Race Theory for being a funding issue is the school board. They have it 100 percent within their power to adopt a policy saying they will not teach Critical Race Theory in our schools. That’s 100 percent in their power. Second, as soon as we know what the per pupil funding is we will at that time fund that. As soon as we know what the (teacher salary) increase passed by the General Assembly we will fund that. I think this is a generous program the county commissioners have said we’re going to fund, what we need to fund to educate our children.”
“Next year, when we can get bonding capacity, I think we need to pass a bond to move towards eliminating all mobile classrooms. I am committed to help educate our children. I am not committed to having our children indoctrinated. Critical Race Theory indoctrinates school children with toxic and some of the most anti-American theories ever considered,” Smith stated.
Commissioner Braswell asked Smith if he wrote the budget or if Commissioner Harris wrote the budget.
Commissioner Harris replied, “Commissioner (Braswell) this is a long and tedious process of compromise and conversation with all the commissioners. And so, I can sit here today and speak for myself and say I’d like to fund the school system for exactly what they asked for. I thinks that’s what we should do because we need to be dedicated to the education of our children.”
Critical Race Theory is divisive
“But the Critical Race Theory and these divisive things that have come up recently, this is a huge problem. And I think the intention of the motion is, is to give them the opportunity to go back and adopt the policy, make the corrections that need to be made, and I’ll go on record and say that I would support funding them the full amount that they’ve asked for. We’ve funded the full amount of their capital outlay. It’s not about taking away from the school system. It’s not about taking away from the children. It’ s about ensuring the public that we’re going to get that policy in place so that they can have peace of mind knowing that divisive things, and you can call it whatever, are being taught to our children. And I think it’s very important not to be divisive,” Commissioner Harris told Commissioner Braswell.
“Obviously Chairman Sutton has come and made a statement. I believe he is going to do what he says he is going to do. This gives him an opportunity. He didn’t have time to get it done by today, but this gives him an opportunity to get it done and come back to the board for additional funding,” Harris said.
County Commissioner Chairman Chad Stewart added, “I think the school board has showed (sp) great effort and they don’t want it in the school system. The commissioners have said they don’t want it in the school system. I know Commissioner Smith said its very simple, adopt CRT and the game is over with. Well, what about other forms creeping in. So trying to get seven commissioners and seven school board members to have the wording of a policy as it pertains to theories in our school system will never get done, will never get done. So at some point we’ve got to compromise… that’s just where I’m at right now.”
“You know every year I’ve been here we’ve increased the funds, yet our results have got worse.”
Commissioner Larry Wood gave the most passionate speech of the night. “I’ve heard the school budget, I’ve heard three items that have been brought into question, concern, CRT, losing 1250 students, teacher salary increases. I think all are important… I have to draw back on my memory. I’ve been here a short time. Some of you have been here twice what I have. But it was just a few years ago we were wondering where 3, 5, 8, 9, 14 million dollars went. We had a lot of promises…”
“I think there is a lot of issues that we have been through, both boards, as a county, but when I look at the Johnston County Report card on DPI and I see the results we’re coming up with, I’m appalled. I’m appalled. We keep taking about funds, more funds, more funds. You know every year I’ve been here we’ve increased the funds, yet our results have got worse. Are we talking about money here or are we talking about taking our eye off the ball where we’re worried about what color somebody’s skin is, where they were born, their last name. I would like, I talked to Mr. Smith today, and he told me about these three things, I heard Commissioner Braswell talk about having hurdles to jump and this, that and the other, but I think the most important hurdle.”
“I think it’s time our kids in the fifth grade can read in the fifth grade level.”
Commissioner Wood continued, “I would add number four down here. I think it’s time we started teaching math, science, English. I think it’s time our kids in the fifth grade can read in the fifth grade level. I’m sick and tired of bickering back and forth between boards about this, that and the other. We’ve taken our eye off the ball. We’ve taken our eye off the ball as a county, as people, as Americans, as free people.”
“So, Mr. Braswell, I want to add number four down there, I want to see some results, I want to see some kids learning, I want to see things happening in our school system. I want to teachers not afraid to teach. They’ve obviously put their life’s work into going to college, not to be rich, not to be famous, but for the passion of teaching. Now if we’re going to get caught up into which side of the railroad tracks, which side of 95 somebody grew up on, we’re wasting everybody’s time here. We might as well make the budget at zero. So, when are we going to start teaching kids how to read and write? Or do we need to be in the parking lot worried about whose Dad is at home at 12 o’clock at night. We’ve just listed money and money after money after money with real tax dollars in it. We’ve got Partnership for Children, we’ve got Access Healthcare, we’ve got homeless shelters, I’m disappointed. I’m just disappointed.”
Letters to Commissioner
Commissioner Smith responded, “The great President Ronald Reagan said ‘trust but verify.’ That’s all we’re trying to do.”
“I can’t tell you how many emails and phone calls I’ve received on this issue. Let me read you an example. ‘I’m a Johnston County teacher. I’ve mailed to commissioners a flyer expressing my sentiment and concern that Critical Race Theory is alive and well in Johnston County to the Johnston County Commissioners.’
“Number two. ‘Two years ago I received training from Johnston County Public School officials regarding Critical Race Theory and so-called anti-white privilege. Last year, my teacher received training about white privilege in a zoom call from Johnston County school officials.'”
“Number three. ‘Dr. Amanda Allen, who is head of Johnston County guidance counselors K through 12 is actively promoting a book to all guidance counselors called White Fragility, about Critical Race Theory and other books that promote Critical Race Theory and gender equality.'”
“We’re not shadow boxing here. These are facts, facts about our Country, facts about who we are as a people, and Johnston County is just one county in America,” Smith stated.
Godwin: Lowering Property Tax Rate “Irresponsible”
Commissioner Ted Godwin then spoke. “I’ve sat quiet for a long time. Regarding the budget overall, I’ve got a problem with several bullet points on here. I’ve been called a little to the right of Jesse Helms but I think lowering the tax rates 3 cents is irresponsible in the long run. I’m all for lowering the tax rates but I don’t know what life’s going to hold next year or the year after. I remember back in ’07 and ’08 when times were really tough and I’m afraid we might see that in the future and I’d like to be prepared for it but in the spirit of compromise I’m willing to go along with this. I don’t believe bullet number two (funding two District Attorney positions) should be a part of this. It is a state funded position but I understand it is critical to that department and in the spirit of compromise I’m willing to go along with it. I was impressed Chairman Sutton had to say tonight.”
Commissioners Pay Raise
Commissioners voted to give themselves a 17 percent pay raise starting July 1st.
As chairman, Chad Stewart will see his annual salary increase from $14,317 to $16,803. In addition, the chairman receives $6,000 travel per year, health insurance coverage valued at $9,060, and life insurance valued at $31.56.
Other commissioners will see their pay increase from $13,016 to $15,275 annually. In addition, each commissioner receives $4,800 travel, health insurance coverage valued at $9,060, and life insurance valued at $29.40.
All county employees will receive a three percent salary increase in July with a potential performance pay adjustment of an additional two percent in September. Four county employees, all appointed by the board of commissioners, received a higher salary increase.
County manager Rick Hester was given a 7.3% salary jump from $203,159 to $217,990. County attorney Jennifer Slusser was given a 10.4 percent increase from $152,065 to $167,880. Tax Administrator Jocelyn Andrews was given a 8.9% pay hike from $1112,320 to $122,384. The Clerk to the Board, Paula Woodard, received a 2.5% salary increase from $72,217 to $76,502.
These salaries do not include the 3 percent across the board adjustment or the potential 2 percent merit adjustment the four employees will also received.
Commissioners approved additional funding in the budget for some public agencies, civic, community and non-profits including:
$15,000 – Re-Entry Program
$1,200,000 – Economic Development budget / Speculative Building Program
$100,000 – MyKid’s Club (for new facility)
$15,000 – Clayton Fire Department for contracted technical rescue services
$9,000 – PrincetonFire Deaprtment for contracted technical rescue services
$11,000 – Beaver Management Assistance program
$143,000 – NC Forestry Service Johnston County office
$75,000 – Harbor Inc.
$21,000 – Smithfield Rescue Mission
$25,000 – Moccassin Creek Service District Drainage Study
$50,000 – Project Access
$10,000 – Special Olympics
$200,000 – Johnston County Regional Airport (for grant matches)
$60,000 – Benson Veterans Memorial Park
$29,108 – Four Oaks Veterans Memorial Park
$150,000 – Town of Micro Community Building
$50,000 – Partnership for Children of Johnston County
$610,000 – Johnston County Public Library in Smithfield
$1,573,340 – Town of Smithfield water line project
Two State Positions
County Commissioners agreed to spending $125,193 for two District Attorney positions until the State of North Carolina adopts their budget. The county had previously funded the positions from Jan. 1 – June 30, 2021 after state funds ran out on Dec. 31, 2020.
Johnston Community College
Commissioners appropriated $4,853,910 for current expense and $2,091,176 for capital outlay for Johnston Community College.
Fire Tax Rates
Commissioners approved an increase in the fire tax district rates for a number of departments including:
● Cleveland Fire Dept – 7.25 to 9.25 cents per $100 value
● Princeton Fire Dept – 5 to 10 cents per $100 value
● Kenly Fire Dept – 8 to 10 cents per $100 value
● Meadow Fire Dept – 7 to 11 cents per $100 value
● Micro Fire Dept – 10 to 12 cents per $100 value
● Benson Fire Dept – 10 to 12 cents per $100 value
● Corinth Holders FD – 10 to 11 cents per $100 value
● Bethany FD – 10 to 12 cents per $100 value
● Brogden FD – 8 to 10 cents per $100 value
● Blackman’s Crossroads FD – 8 to 13 cents per $100 value
Open Space Fees
Commissioners adopted an increase in open space fees paid by developers. The price will increase from $800 to $1000 effective September 1, 2021.
The new budget takes effect July 1, 2021
Ronald Johnson Op-Ed: CRT Policy Is Based On Money Not Values
This story has been updated