Editorial: School Board Candidates & Members Need To Work Out Differences

On August 8, the Johnston County Report published a news story about a leaked audio tape from Ronald Johnson that had been given to school board candidates Michelle Antoine and Kevin Donovan.

In the audio, school board member Kay Carroll is heard saying “Hide the money.” In the story, Antoine and Donovan said they were concerned JCPS was being less than transparent with Johnston County Commissioners about their fund balance.

On August 5, three days prior to publication of the story, we reached out to Mr. Carroll, Chief Finance Officer Stephen Britt, and Director of Public Information Caitlin Furr, (who handles questions for the school system, superintendent and the entire school board) for a comment on the allegations. As of today, two weeks later, they have yet to respond. We’ll get to that in a moment.

On August 9, JCPS spent more than 20 minutes at their regularly scheduled board meeting, with Mr. Britt presenting a slide show showing that no money was missing or hidden. Mr. Britt received praise from board members. He appears to be an excellent CFO.

We must point out, the original article stated there was a discussion about hiding money. No one stated money was hidden. But the mere conversation about the potential diversion of taxpayer money is concerning.

Mr. Carroll should have never used the words “Hide your money” in a conversation about school funds. Antoine and Donovan can only conclude what most people would when that is clearly stated by an elected official of any board in a meeting and raised their concerns.

Should Ronald Johnson have recorded the meeting? That is up to debate. Board member Terri Sessoms raised concerns Aug. 9 about Johnson recording the March meeting – saying that it might be a violation of their ethics policy for Members of the Johnston County Board of Education. The school board will have to decide.

It has certainly brought the meeting to the public spotlight, as all meetings of school and county officials should be. Johnson will need to answer to his motives, however, he has told us the conversation centered around Mr. Carroll’s discussion of ways to hide money from county commissioners, and when Johnson left the March 2022 meeting he didn’t hear anyone present voice concerns about the dialogue. Others at the same meeting vehemently disagree. Either way it was poorly chosen words to use.

Mr. Carroll should have never requested three board members meet privately to discuss the budget. It avoids having a quorum of at least 4 board members present, but it raises questions about why it was needed in the first place.

“Transparency” is a word mentioned frequently by the school board but the March meeting was anything but transparent. By inviting Mr. Britt and Superintendent Bracy to the meeting, it involves them. They surely cannot tell school board members (their bosses) no, we won’t attend.

In our opinion, the school board has attempted to spin the leaked audio tape story into a personal attack on Stephen Britt. It is not. It only deflected attention from the board members discussing school finances. Mr. Britt is due an apology from the board members.

These conversations should only take place in public meetings. Their words on the audio speak for themselves. The people of Johnston County now must decide what they really mean.

Dale Lands and John Saluppo, the founders of Citizen Advocates for Accountable Government (CAAG) make a good point. Public officials should not have any conversation that speaks of hiding or concealing money. Furthermore, it is unacceptable the school board members attempted to deflect their involvement onto Mr. Britt.

Depending on which side you’re on, some say County Commissioners knew about an $8 million fund balance. Others say they did not.

Commissioner Fred Smith made a valid point that sending an email to the assistant county manager is not legal notification. (That email was misplaced for several weeks.) When the school board said the fund balance had been approved by county commissioners, it had not.

In speaking with Mr. Smith, he tells the Johnston County Report that he did not previously know about the $8 million transfer.

A school board official should be required to appear in person before County Commissioners each time money is moved from one line item to another. It goes to transparency. It also helps build trust between the boards.

We propose this solution. Let the adults in the room come together for a sit down meeting to ask questions and iron out their differences. Carroll and Andrews have two years remaining on their school board terms.

If the May primary numbers remain consistent in the November vote totals, Kevin Donovan and Michelle Antoine will be sitting on the school board with Carroll and Andrews in a little more than 3 months. They will also have to work with Superintendent Bracy and CFO Britt.

Both sides need to work out their differences, face to face, soon. It doesn’t need to drag on into the September school board meeting when there will be back to school issues to address. Students are days away from returning to classes. The focus needs to be on the children, improving test scores, supporting teachers, faculty, getting a handle on growth, and campaigning for the November bond referendum.

Ronald Johnson, Michelle Antoine, Kevin Donovan, Lyn Andrews, and Kay Carroll need to meet with one another and find common ground for the good of our county and public schools. If not, then meet for the betterment of our school children and their future. Stephen Britt and Dr. Bracy should also attend. (Mr. Johnson doesn’t need to bring a recorder or cell phone to the meeting.)

Although we have not always agreed with Chairman Todd Sutton, it is apparent that he wants what’s best for the school district and county. As outgoing Chairman, he should moderate the meeting. We trust he can bring all sides together. Until such a meeting can take place, the impasse isn’t going away, and hard feelings will remain. We don’t need that between (current and future) school board members.

We spoke to Mr. Sutton this afternoon and he agreed to lead our proposed meeting, He agrees, as do we, it is important to work together for a common goal. If possible we’d like to see board member Mike Wooten involved somehow. Mike is also excellent at bringing people together.

Mr. Carroll started all this with the private meeting and his comments. In our opinion, he and no one else is to blame. Saying “Hide the money” is a poor choice of words isn’t adequate. He owes an apologize to all those involved, including Lyn Andrews and Stephen Britt. Without his words this would not be a story.

We hope all sides can agree the JCPS Public Information Office needs to timely respond to all emails and records requests from the public and media. Mr. Carroll and Mr. Britt should have also responded to questions from the media, including answering questions they may not like.

For more than 31 years, we’ve covered local news. The Johnston County Report has delivered the news and events that shape the lives of our citizens. We have covered local, county boards, law enforcement actions and profiled citizens who are making a difference in their communities.

Our job has been to report the news. We do so in a manner that presents our readers with the facts without editorial comment or without any type of political or personal agenda. Our mission has been to keep Johnston County citizens informed about what’s going on in their county, in their schools, in the courthouse, in their communities.

We will continue that mission.

The Johnston County Report will continue to provide our readers with insight and information into the actions of our elected officials and appointed administrators. We will do in a manner that is truthful, factual and without editorial comments. Feel free to blame the messenger. However, that’s our job and we will continue to do just that.

We hope to report on the outcome of that joint meeting we’ve proposed very soon. Chairman Sutton has agreed to moderate. Now, let the adults in the room come forward, the ones who want to put our children first.

Mickey Lamm
Editor

22 COMMENTS

  1. EXCELLENT PROPOSAL!! Bet some will not appear, though. And most likely, the one that needs to be recalled or FIRED!!

  2. Any one of those involved that do not come forward to this meeting need to be removed from the board or not elected to the board. These “adults” are not acting in the best interest of the schools or county.

    • Ms. Jen R you are so spot on about Todd Sutton and Mike Wooten whom cannot try to assume the role of taking the high road. By being silent they are supporting this unbelievable lack of having any respect for parents and taxpayers. I personally think the board of commissioners and the school board are scared to death of what a forensic audit would bring to this county? $180-K-Carroll and Ma Andrews could clear up all speculation by demanding an audit themselves. Then when everything checks out they can again return to thier positions of the pillars of the community. Until then they have lost any meaningful respect of being a open and balanced book of leadership. Unless $180-K-Carroll and Ma Andrews demand a audit the Parents and Tax Payers are left to wonder has the same thing happened here in our beloved county as it has in other school systems that a movie based off of a true story called Bad Education? Watch the movie folks and you may see why people thinks they can just fix this internally and move on. I am sure this is not the case here in our beloved county, but wouldn’t it be nice to know for sure?

  3. JoCo History repeats… As usual, disregard and overlook any wrongdoings…push under the rug with the others and move forward and call it transparency.

  4. Given the BOE’s outrageous reaction, historical track record, and a feeble “wellness” audit; a forensic audit is required to clear the air. I’m thankful this has been brought into the light of day. Keep pushing Donovan & Antoine, what you’ve done took courage.

  5. The dog and pony show of the board meeting, which included multiple and exacerbated apologies to Mr. Britt, soft condemnation of JocoReport for actually reporting the news (1st amendment anyone?), and Sutton’s tears over a 15 year old girl who can’t read or write and he’s over there promising “We aren’t going to let you down”…ugh, sir…reality is on the phone and the school system in this county has let that girl down since middle school, answer the call.

    IDK if what Johnson did was legal, or if he abused his positions in the county to obtain that recording, but whether 8 million dollars was “hidden” or not is moot. Andrews said publicly that they had a choice to give the money back, or keep it to “improve our schools” and they decided to keep it.

    IQ is an intelligence metric primarily based on pattern recognition, and anyone with room temp IQ or higher can see the pattern: Say all the problems are a lack of funding, get more funding, watch performance and scores go down more, rinse and repeat. You can’t throw money at the problem when the problem isn’t the money. If these school board members can’t realize that money isn’t the issue, but broken homes, and parents who treat their children as wards of the state rather than their own, is the real root cause we face. It is absolutely high time we reform our school systems so that parents are charged with being parents again. It’s not the State’s job to educate your child, it is yours. The State may facilitate that service, but their success or failure begins and ends at home.

  6. Honestly, for the school board to hold any credibility, all members should resign and start with new members and new ideas. There are 2 questions which should be asked for any and all excisions the board makes. A: how does this improve student learning and B: how will this help teachers to teach. Everything else is politics and a waste of time.

    • The fact that we had a majority on the board that supported masks and shutdowns, in spite of the evidence showing that neither were effective in a school setting for stopping the spread of covid, in addition to them soft shoeing around CRT policy was enough to do the entire board in. They care more about what Wake County has to say than what parents and their constituents demand of them.

      100% agree with your sentiments, sir.

  7. With the JoCo BOE & Commissioners averaging an 89% re-election rate over the past 25 years, I highly doubt there will be any meaningful change coming any time soon. Until the VOTERS decide to stop re-electing the same-old-same each year, nothing will ever change. The JoCo voters are 99% responsible for this debacle — we reap what we sow.

    • I agree but I am also not convinced that it’s all voter related as I find it hard to believe that certain people have been elected/re-elected fairly. Fraud happens at all levels with the voting machines.

      • @JenR: It’s been repeatedly proven that there is no meaningful voter fraud — out of 6M votes in NC, there were 106 cases of voter fraud. It doesn’t happen on any meaningful scale. The only large-scale fraud in NC was the voter harvesting scheme by the GOP. *Voters* don’t commit fraud, the *politicians* do!

        • The machines are the problem, they have been shown to change votes and add votes. Canvassing in 8 counties have shown votes that were cast by people who don’t exist, didn’t actually vote, are not residents of NC, have multiple voter id numbers, are illegal, no longer lived at the address, live in fields and PO Boxes and many more ghost/phantom and imaginary voters. These have all been irrefutably proven but the politicians and judges (who I agree are the problem) refuse to look at the hard evidence and continue to follow the talking points because the no fraud stance helps them stay in office as well. They are all of the same party… the uniparty.

          • If there isnt fraud explain to me how in 73 heavy republican counties the only 5 elected seats that can have any pull on the elections all went dem?

          • Simply not true JenR. Per NC BOE data, in 2020 there were 65 cases of “double voting”, 33 cases of active felons attempting to vote, and 3 cases of felons attempting to register. And this reflects a continuing decline of “illegal voting” (there were aprox 400 cases in 2016). All of the data is publicly available: https://www.ncsbe.gov/results-data

            As to why some Dems win, I think it is pretty obvious — many of us true Conservatives know that that the real power is in the state legislature, so we don’t bother voting in state-wide races (gov, AG, etc). As long as Moore and Berger retain a super-marjority, the rest of the races don’t matter.

          • You can’t find fraud when you refuse to look for it. Just like you can’t find crime if you never look for it. Berger and Moore are bed buddies with Cooper and they work in unison to destroy our state.

        • Define “ meaningful”. Also they only investigate reported cases…not every vote so the number is likely to be higher. If out of 500 reported cases and only 106 proven, well that’s almost 20%. What’s 20% of 6 million.

          • @CaptainObvious: That’s not how statistical sampling works. But feel free to enjoy the view from under a tinfoil hat.

Comments are closed.