One day after Johnston County Commissioner Chairman Tony Braswell criticized the Johnston County School Board for its handling of an employment contract for Superintendent Dr. Ed Croom, the Chairman of the School Board has responded to what he calls a “personal attack.”
Braswell and the county board of commissioners have raised questions following a News & Observer article last Friday indicating Johnston County taxpayers could potentially be responsible for paying $520,000 towards Dr. Croom’s state retirement benefits. Croom will retire March 1st at the age of 50. This would be the first time Johnston County has had to pay money towards a state retirement under the Anti-Spiking Law.
In a JoCoReport.com news article Wednesday, Braswell said in part, “... to say that I am angry would be an understatement. Citizens have expressed maybe the lights are on with the Board of Education, but no one is home.”
Both Braswell and School Board Chairman Larry Strickland are running for the same NC House seat and are engaged in a March 15th primary before Johnston County voters.
Thursday afternoon Strickland responded. “During my entire tenure on the Johnston County School Board, unlike many school boards around the state, we have enjoyed an excellent relationship with our County Commission. Both boards have always strived to put education first and to put the needs of our children above politics. Unfortunately, during this political silly season, County Commission Chairman Braswell, has decided, for pure personal political gain, to attempt to destroy this relationship by loudly and publicly insulting our School Board and is trying to drag my six fellow board members, against their will, into the race for State House between myself and Commissioner Braswell. As Chairman, I cannot sit back and let someone insult my fellow board members, their commitment to carefully managing the tax dollars they oversee, and the work they do for our schools, our teachers and our children.”
“Perhaps someone needs to remind Commissioner Braswell that it was the Johnston County School Board during the Great Recession in Fiscal Year 2009-2010, Fiscal Year 2010-2011, Fiscal Year 2011-2012 and Fiscal Year 2012-2013 that voluntarily returned over $20 Million to the county. Without the strong conservative fiscal oversight practiced by our school board, Braswell would have had no choice but to raise all of our property taxes to cover the revenue shortages that were occurring. Johnston County certainly didn’t have the reserve funds necessary to make up for the lost revenue,” Strickland said.
“As proven by our actions during the Great Recession, the Johnston County School Board takes our responsibility to be good stewards of the tax dollars provided to us by our county’s taxpayers. I hope Commissioner Braswell will apologize to my fellow board members for this vicious, personal political attack on our board. They do not deserve to be dragged through the mud because I am running in the same primary election as Commissioner Braswell,” Strickland added.
JoCoReport.com reached out to Commissioner Braswell for a response but he could not be reached before our news deadline.
School Board Considering Legal Options
In other developments, School Board Attorney Jimmy Lawrence released a statement late-Wednesday saying “…it is the position of the Johnston County Board of Education that the interpretation of the Anti-Spiking Law is flawed and should not impact a pre-existing contract that has been in effect with no changes since 2011.
“It is the Board’s belief that the parameters of the potential liability to the retirement system has not been effectively communicated to school boards and other governmental entities across North Carolina. The Board of Education would therefore challenge the interpretation of the statute on the following basis:
- The Board of Education feels strongly that no “spiking” has occurred in Dr. Croom’s contract, especially in light of the fact that he has been given no raises by the Board since 2011.The overall value of the contract has been neutral since March 1, 2009.
- Paying any liability based on the “life expectancy” of a retiree with thirty (30) years of service to the State.If Dr. Croom does not reach his calculated life expectancy, even over a short period of time, the Board would not be repaid any funds previously submitted to the retirement system.
The Board feels that it must diligently and vigorously explore all of its legal options and remedies before any funds are paid to the retirement system based upon Dr. Croom’s retirement.”
During Tuesday’s school board meeting, Dr. Croom briefly addressed the controversy. He said over a dozen school districts in North Carolina would be impacted by the legislation in the next few months. Dr. Croom said if he remained on as superintendent he would stand to lose over $250,000 in retirement money in the next 10 years. Croom defended his salary by saying his administration and the school board have saved the district millions of dollars in recent years. Croom said he has retained an attorney to investigate if personal information, which he did not believe was public record, was released to the media prior to him cashing his first retirement check. He ended his comments by saying, “The positive will outshine the negative.”