SMITHFIELD – The Johnston County School Board announced the sudden retirement of Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow following the conclusion of a 45 minute closed session Tuesday evening.
The board voted 7-to-0 to accept Dr. Renfrow’s resignation, which is effective Wednesday, Aug. 28th.
Renfrow was not present at the meeting but in a prepared statement released afterwards said, “It has been my honor and privilege to serve the students of Johnston County Public Schools, and I look forward to other work-related opportunities, but most importantly, spending much needed time with family.”
Board Chairman Mike Wooten said, “Dr. Renfrow’s retirement culminates a long and dedicated career in education, and his service to students of Johnston County Public Schools is appreciated. We wish him the best in retirement and all his future opportunities.”
Effective September 3, 2019, Dr. Jim Causby will serve as the interim Superintendent carrying out all duties and responsibilities for Johnston County Public Schools. Causby will remain as the interim superintendent through June 30, 2020. He will receive the same salary and benefits as Dr. Renfrow, except insurance and retirement. Additionally, Dr. Causby, who now lives in Asheville, NC, will have to rent a home while working in Johnston County. The board will reimburse him up to $1,000 per month for rent.
Brian Vetrano, current Chief of Human Resources and Financial Services, will serve as the interim Superintendent from August 29th through September 2nd, 2019.
Supporters Of Clayton Principal Present At Meeting
About 75 supporters of Clayton High Principal Dr. Bennett Jones attended the meeting. Many held signs in the parking lot showing support for Jones who was removed as principal on August 12th, two months into an investigation into allegations of grade fixing. Jones was reassigned to the Central Office. Supporters want Jones reinstated to his position.
Kathy Scott, one of Dr. Jones supporters said after Dr. Renfrow’s retirement announcement, “I am very excited about this. We still don’t have him back as our principal but its a step in the right direction. We still want to get Dr. Jones back. Dr. Renfrow has not given us any reason to substantiate this investigation or the transparency we need.”
Dr. Renfrow’s Controversial Leadership
Dr. Renfrow’s leadership had come under intense scrutiny in the last 60 days during the Clayton High investigation and Principal Jones transfer. Within the past week “Toss Ross” signs appeared around Clayton including a rally at the Town Square where students and parents called for his removal.
Renfrow became superintendent on March 1, 2016 replacing former Superintendent Dr. Ed Croom who retired. Previously Renfrow had been the deputy superintendent since Jan. 2013. Renfrow had worked with the Johnston County school system about 26 years.
When he was hired as superintendent 42 months ago, his appointment came with immediate controversy. He immediately received a 94 percent salary increase from his deputy superintendent’s salary, given the maximum amount permitted from state funds for superintendents in North Carolina plus an additional $64,750 from local school dollars for a starting salary of $215,022. It was the same salary Dr. Croom received when he retired.
In May 2019, the Johnston County Education Summit criticized Dr. Renfrow’s administration alleging it “…not only places little value on African-American professionals but severely undermines any efforts to achieve diversity throughout the school system.” The Summit is an informal think tank focused on student development and education achievement and includes two former school board members, local attorneys, clergy, business and civic leaders.
That same month, the Johnston County Republican Party issued a statement critical of Dr. Renfrow and the school board for canceling classes for a teachers rally in Raleigh. Classes were canceled for approximately 37,000 students just days before End of Grade testing.
In June 2019, Dr. Renfrow appeared before County Commissioners asking for more than $1 million to “meet obligations” after the school system spent more money than they had received in the 2018-2019 fiscal year budget. Renfrow promised to return any leftover funds to the County on Aug. 1, 2019. No money was ever returned.
Earlier this year, parents began to question how well teachers were vetted, after a husband and wife were arrested for teaching in Johnston County Schools after being hired with fake credentials. The man was a convicted felon.
In 2017, Renfrow approved large pay raises for every member of his cabinet including a $10,008 pay raise to an employee who had been on the job only 70 workdays, increasing their salary from $105,000 to $115,008. All four cabinet members were making over $100,000 when they received the hefty raises. That same year, school teachers only received a one percent supplement increase.
Shortly after being hired as superintendent in 2016, Dr. Renfrow’s administration was accused of mishandling a mold issue at the SSS High Field House. At nearly the same time he was accused of prohibiting a veterans group from distributing American flags to first grade students, something the group 40 & 8 had done in previous years under former superintendent Dr. Croom’s administration. After JoCoReport ran a story about the plight of the veterans organization, Renfrow agreed to allow the flags to be distributed.
Dr. Renfrow was the only candidate who had been interviewed in 2016 for the job of superintendent. One school board member defended the decision at the time saying it saved $20,000 to $40,000 to avoid having to pay for a national search for Dr. Croom’s replacement.