SMITHFIELD -Johnston County Commissioner Fred Smith told fellow commissioners recently that “numbers tell a story.” Smith was referring to data he requested County Manager Rick Hester compile comparing student enrollment trends to the amount of money commissioners are funding Johnston County Public Schools (JCPS) each year.
During the February 8th commission meeting, Mr. Smith stated he had compared funding for the last 5 years. In 2017, JCPS had 15,713 students enrolled in elementary schools, 7730 in middle schools, and 10,781 in high schools for a total of 34,224 students.
In 2021, JCPS had 15,431 students in elementary schools, a decrease of 282 students from 2017. There were 8,064 students in middle school, an increase of only 334 students over the five year period. And in 2021, there were 11,653 students in high school, an increase of 872 students in the previous five years. Overall, there were 35,148 students enrolled in JCPS in 2021, an increase of 924 students in five years, he stated.
Smith then compared funding to JCPS during the same period. In 2017, Commissioners approved $62 million for JCPS. In 2021, Commissioners approved $78 million, representing a $16 million increase, or 25 percent increase, even though the number of students enrolled had increased by only 2.7 percent, he said.
“Numbers tell a story,” Smith said at the end of his presentation offering no further comment. No other commissioners responded to the statistial data.
Johnston County Report reached out to school board chairman Todd Sutton for a response. Sutton issued the following statement by email:
“I appreciate Commissioner Smith initiating the discussion at this month’s meeting about our school system’s growth and funding. Our close working relationship with our County Commissioners allows us to have candid conversations about many aspects of our school system, and we as Board of Education members are extremely grateful for that partnership. This conversation is one of the first of many that we hope to have in regards to student enrollment, facility needs, and funding over the next several months.
When we look at our Growth Forecast report from OREd for the 2021-2022 school year, it’s important to include all of our students in that total. When we do that it brings us to a total 38,095 students in month two for this school year. Comparing that to our number for the 2016-2017 school year, which is 34,523, that is a 9.4% increase over a five-year period.
While our funding from the County Commissioners has increased, which I am extremely grateful for, I hope our Commissioners continue to support our growth. Even with the 25% funding increase that Commissioner Smith referenced, Johnston County Public Schools is still in the bottom 10% of per pupil student expenditure in the state of North Carolina.
It is also vital that we highlight the growth that our school system has seen in some of our newest programs, such as Innovation Academy, Career and Technical Leadership Academy, Early College Academy, and our new JCPS Virtual Academy. This school year the students in these programs total 2,197 students. While it may seem as if these programs make up a small number of students, they actually make up more than 5% of our student enrollment. These students also must be considered for planning purposes, should the need arise for them to return to their domicile school. We also receive per pupil funding from DPI for each one of these students. Johnston County Public Schools offers exemplary programs that strive to meet the needs of all of our students, and we feel it is important to figure this population in when looking at the big picture.
We’re looking forward to our ongoing discussions with our commissioners, staff, and all school stakeholders regarding our growth, funding, and a possible upcoming bond.”