In 4-1 Vote, Commissioners Approve School Funding Bailout

Bailout Comes With Audit Stipulation
School System Layoffs Avoided

In a split vote today, Johnston County Commissioners agreed to provide several million dollars to Johnston County Public Schools (JCPS). In a 4-to-1 vote, Commissioners agreed to give the school system $950,000 in February, $950,000 in March, $950,000 in April and $950,000 in May. Commissioners said they may give JCPS additional money in June 2020 after officials review how much of the $3.8 million given to them between February and May was spent.

County Manager Rick Hester made the funding recommendation Monday. Hester said it followed several meetings in the past few weeks with school board members.

Commissioner Larry Wood made a motion to approve the funding request with a stipulation County Commissioners pay for their own audit of JCPS finances to determine how the school board came up millions of dollars short this year.   Commissioners Tony Braswell, Patrick Harris and Vice Chairman Chad Stewart voted in favor of the motion. Chairman Ted Godwin voted against the measure, saying he wasn’t against funding the schools but was against another audit saying it was a waste of taxpayer’s money.

Stewart responded by saying some citizens believe giving the school system millions of dollars without an audit would be a waste of taxpayer’s money.   Stewart said he doesn’t believe any money was embezzled but he wants to know how the school system got into its current financial crisis. Stewart said he doesn’t know exactly what type of audit is needed. “I’ve heard of a forensic audit, wellness audit, and a line by line audit.” He said he doesn’t care what the audit is called as long as it is from an outside organization and it determines what went wrong.

“I’m totally in favor of the funding schedule,” Chairman Godwin said after the meeting. “Our team has done a lot of work to get us comfortable with the plan. It’s an ongoing work of scrutiny and oversight. I voted against the motion because I think we’re wasting money on an audit that will not tell us a lot we didn’t already know. It will be a good funding plan.”

Mr. Braswell said taxpayers expect commissioners to give the school system money to pay bills but citizens want commissioners to also be wise stewards of the money. Braswell said he wants the school board to get back to work on our “failing schools.”

Mr. Harris called Monday’s bailout a good funding plan. “You can’t un-ring the bell,” Harris said referring to the financial problems facing Johnston County Schools, adding there needs to be assurances this won’t happen against.   Harris said he struggled with the $1.5 million emergency spending request last year and he struggled with today’s request. Harris said he looks forward to seeing next year’s school budget, saying school officials need to “set a budget and stick with it.” Adding to Braswell’s statement about failing schools, Harris said the focus needs to return to the children and test scores.

Commissioner Wood said the additional funding measure approved Monday “will equal less bricks for schools” indicating it could delay future new school construction and bond monies.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Ben Williams and school board member Mike Wooten were in attendance of Monday’s meeting. Afterwards, Dr. Williams said there will be no layoffs or reduction in force (RIF) among school personnel.

Commissioners Jeff Carver and Butch Lawter were not present for Monday’s meeting.