Johnston County Schools Asks Commissioners For $207 Million

School Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow appeared before Johnston County Commissioners on Monday. Renfrow asked for $207 million that would include construction of 4 new schools and expanding 4 existing schools. Photo

Johnston County School Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow says tremendous growth in Johnston County is causing the need for more classrooms.

On Monday, Dr. Renfrow appeared before Johnston County Commissioners asking for a total of $207 million in “needs not wants” by 2027 as recommended by the Operations Research and Education Laboratory (OREd) at NC State University.  OREd used demographics and growth trends to predict how many schools will be needed and where those schools need to be built.

$135 Million For 4 New Schools
The OREd report says Johnston County will need a minimum to 2 new elementary schools at a cost of $24 million each, 1 new middle school at $32 million, and 1 new high school at a cost of $55 million. Those 4 schools would cost taxpayers $135 million.

Dr. Renfrow said the new school needs does not factor in an upcoming K-4 class size legislation reduction by the NC General Assembly.

$28.2 Million To Expand 4 Current Schools, Relocated 5th Graders
Additionally, the OREd report recommends adding additions at four existing school campuses to accommodate future growth and eliminate overcrowding.

$9.6 million is needed at Corinth Holders High, which is currently at 719 students over capacity, to expand. It would also eliminate 18 mobile trailers currently in use.

$9.6 million is needed at Cleveland High, which is 478 students over capacity, the report said.  It would also allow 15 mobile trailers to be eliminated.

$4.5 million is needed at Archer Lodge Middle to expand the school. The middle school is already 230 students over capacity and is using 23 mobile trailers.

Four Oaks Middle was the fourth school where expansion was suggested in the report along with the relocation of 5th graders.  $4.5 million would be needed to expand the middle school. The report suggested 5th graders should be relocated from Four Oaks Elementary School to Four Oaks Middle to ease overcrowding.

$43.9 Million For Renovations
Dr. Renfrow told county commissioners that several older school campuses in Johnston County are in needs of updates and renovations.  Commissioners loaned the school board $30 million in June 2017 to make repairs at more than a dozen schools.   Eight of the school projects were to repair leaky outdated roofs.

Renfrow said money is now needed to go back and renovate and modernize many of the same schools that were built in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

While the schools were not specifically named, his report to commissioners specified only dollar amounts that would be earmarked to specific areas of the county where the money would be spent.  It included:

North Johnston Area:           $3.4 Million
Smithfield-Selma Area:         $11.5 Million
South Johnston Area:           $9.3 Million
Clayton Area:                         $9.3 Million
Cleveland Area:                    $5.3 Million
Princeton Area:                     $5.1 Million                                     

Renfrow said the $207 million request is “needs not wants” in the next 9 years, by 2027.

Johnston County Schools have requested a Bond Referendum to go before Johnston County voters this November.  The school chief did not disclose the bond amount school leaders are seeking in 2018 but said funds for at least one new elementary school for northwestern Johnston County is needed immediately.

Regardless of the bond amount in 2018, $207 million is the total request from commissioners and voters to have in place and constructed by 2027.

If approved, Dr. Renfrow said it would allow Johnston County to remove all 183 mobile trailers currently in use at campuses across the county.

OREd predicts there were be 41,977 students enrolled in Johnston County Schools in the 2027-28 term an increase of more than 6,300 students enrolled this school year.

How Much More Can Taxpayers Afford?
If a bond referendum is approved in November, Johnston County taxpayers will be on the hook to repay the debt.

As of February 1st , the County of Johnston still had $249,753,069 in debt to repay for prior school bond referendums.

The current property tax rate is 78 cents.  Of that amount, 36 cents goes towards Johnston County Schools and school debt repayment. Broken down, 23 cents is going towards operating expenses of Johnston County Schools this fiscal year. An additional 13 cents is going towards the retirement of the $249,753,069 in existing debt for previously built schools.  Many of the loans for new school buildings were financed for 18-20 years.