On August 16th, Johnston County school board members held a Convocation at Five County Stadium in Wake County, welcoming teachers to the start of the 2017-18 school year and surprised them with the news they would receive a one percent supplement increase this year. The supplement was equivalent to a $350 pay raise for a first year teacher.
Those same Johnston County school board members met in secret – in closed session – just 8 days earlier on Aug. 8 to give their four top cabinet members under second year superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow significant pay raises. The pay raises were not on the August agenda and were only discussed behind closed doors at the direction of school board attorney Jimmy Lawrence.
Crystal Kimpson Roberts, Chief of Communication and Engagement, who was hired only 3 months earlier on May 1, 2017 at a starting salary of $105,000 was given a $10,008 pay increase – a 9 percent raise – increasing her salary to $115,008. Roberts had been with Johnston County Schools only 70 workdays before the vote to increase her salary.
Brian Vetrano, Chief of Human Capital, received a 5 percent salary increase – or $5,657.88 more – bringing his yearly pay to $115,008. That followed an 8.5 percent pay increase he received in 2016.
Dolores Gill, who was promoted to Chief of Staff in 2017 after the retirement of Patrick Jacobs, received a 10 percent salary jump from $103,812 to $115,008, an increase of $11,196.
The highest increase went to Eddie Price, Deputy Superintendent and the second in charge of the school system. Price had been making $109,612.68 but was given a 14 percent pay increase – or a $15,391.32 raise – to an annual salary of $125,004.
Instead of making the salaries effective on August 8th, the day of the closed session meeting, the school board voted 5-to-1 to backdate the pay increases to take effect on July 1, 2017.
August 2017 Salary Increases
Crystal Roberts, Chief of Communication
$105,000 to $115,008 (+ $10,008)
Brian Vetrano, Chief of Human Capital
$109,350,12 to $115,008 (+ $5,657.88)
Dolores Gill, Chief of Staff
$103,812 to $115,008 (+ $11,196)
Eddie Price, Deputy Superintendent
$109,612.68 to $125,004 (+ $15,391.32)
Board Chairman Defends Raises
Mike Wooten, Chairman of the Johnston County School Board, defended the increases saying Dr. Renfrow had decreased the size of his senior cabinet from 8 to four officials which saved $297,000 in annual salaries. Wooten said the 4 personnel have the same responsibilities as the 8 former cabinet members and because of their increased duties deserved more pay.
Wooten had no problem with Roberts $10,008 pay raise even though she had been on the job only 70 days. There was no suggestions the 4 employees had to work more than 40 hours each week.
Superintendent: Educators Should Make Millions
Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow also defended the pay hikes claiming the four employees in his cabinet are doing more work. “When you downsize there is more work for everybody. When you look at salaries compared to 9 or 10 years ago, I felt it was in the best interest to compensate them more. They are still making less than the folks were 10 years ago.”
Renfrow was referring to the 2007-08 school year, when former Superintendent Dr. Anthony Parker made $260,368 that year. Other cabinet members earned between $106,744 and $174,152.
Dr. Renfrow said there was no intent to keep the salary increases quiet. He said the decision to discuss the increases in closed session was made by Attorney Jimmy Lawrence. “Based on our board attorney this should go to the board in closed session.”
Renfrow said he was not concerned about the message the high salary increases to the top four personnel would send to other school employees, including first year teachers at the Convocation who learned about their $350 average pay raise.
“I would break it down even further than that. There needs to be a bigger commitment at a federal, state and local level to fund all educators – certified and classified – at a greater capacity.”
“Our society has the priorities mixed up. You can make millions as professional athletes. (The) people making millions should be local law enforcement, firefighters, first responders and educators,” Dr. Renfrow said in defense of the administrators raises.
Renfrow said the four top educators hold the “key to the future” of thousands of Johnston County Schools children and “a lot is at stake.”
He defended Roberts salary hike after only 3 months on the job. “I am all about consistency. You will write it from your viewpoint. Eddie (Price) deserves more. I felt it prudent to Brian (Vetrano), Crystal (Roberts) and Deloris (Gill) they all make the same amount.”
The total raises amount to $42,252.32, which would nearly pay for one new teaching position. The average salary of a teacher in North Carolina is $47,783 or about $10,000 less than the national average.
One Board Members Votes Against Raises
The decision to give the raises was not unanimous. Newly elected school board member Ronald Johnson was the only board member to vote against the raises, which passed in a 5-to-1 vote.
“I cannot in good conscience support raises for the highest paid employees of Johnston County Schools,” Johnson told WTSB News and JoCoReport.com. “I am personally unable to justify top paid employees raises while teachers and classified staff go underpaid and while our classrooms remain underfunded.”
“I do not want to devalue the employees tapped to receive these raises, however, I strongly believe the money should be allocated in a way that will have a more direct impact on our students,” Johnson said.
“The students and teachers of Johnston County Schools are my top priority. These raises do not enhance the academic experience of our students, nor do they help to adequately compensate the teachers and staff who work directly with our students day in and day out,” Johnson explained.
Five members did vote for the raise: Todd Sutton, Chairman Mike Wooten, Vice Chair Dorothy Johnson, Dr. Peggy Smith and Butler Hall. Teresa Grant was not present at the meeting.
Ex-School Board Member: Teachers Should Be First
Former Johnston County School Board member and retired County Commissioner DeVan Barbour, a watchdog of taxpayer’s money while in office, was surprised when he learned of the pay raises. “Where did the money come from? I have to question how they found that pot of money. Did they get permission from county commissioners?”
“I think it sends a bad signal (to teachers). We’ve been hearing for years supplements lag behind adjacent counties. You want to remain as competitive as you can. The idea has to focus on teachers first, not administrators. The (administrators) are not leaving because pay is not competitive. We do have teachers leaving because pay is not competitive. When you have limited funds you should use them to address the problems you are facing and that is teachers leaving because of pay.”
“Have you heard of any administrator leaving for another job to get more money? They may be leaving wanting to be a superintendent somewhere but not for more money. It sends a bad signal to county teachers,” Barbour said.
Statistics back Barbour’s concerns.
In Johnston County, the teacher turnover rate was 14 percent for the 2015-2016 school year. The majority of teachers who quit, 52 percent, left Johnston County to go to Wake County because of higher salaries and supplements.
No top level cabinet official left Johnston County Schools for Wake County Schools last year.
Sutton Says Cabinet Members Work 24 Hours Day
School board member Todd Sutton of Kenly supported the 4 cabinet members salary increases, but admitted teachers should get paid more. “We all feel that teachers should be paid more than they currently are. The only piece we have control over is supplements. The state mandates their pay. We were excited to give them another 1 percent raise, which does move the budget $1.8 to $1.9 million in the supplement raise.”
Sutton defended the four cabinet members raises saying, “They work practically 24 hours a day.”