A month after Johnston County School board member Ronald Johnson released a scathing editorial saying corruption and incompetency were partially to blame for an $8.8 million budget shortfall, a new video interview released today (Monday) goes into specific details about his claims.
Over the Christmas holiday, Mr. Johnson agreed to release more specific details about allegations he first made in the November 29, 2019 op-ed. For full transparency, Mr. Johnson requested we videotape the interview for the public to see. We agreed and the entire video is below.
In the video, recorded last week and released Monday, Mr. Johnson says he is presenting his evidence to the NC State Bureau of Investigation and he continues to call for a forensic audit of Johnston County Schools finances. He believes if the SBI agrees to investigate, they may find criminal or unethical issues. “People deserve the truth… we have an opportunity to come clean and right this ship.”
In June 2019, Johnson says in the video, two female Johnston County Schools employees reported to him they were the victims of a sexual assault by a male who made unwanted advances and inappropriately touched one of the women. Johnson said he immediately reported the incident to school administration but no action was ever taken. On August 16, 2019, Johnson said he received “evidence” supporting the women’s claims and notified all of his fellow school board members. On August 23, 2019, Johnson said in retaliation the male accused of harassment, along with a high ranking central office employee, attempted to have him arrested.
In October 2019, one of the female victims told Johnson the inappropriate physical behavior had subsided, however she continued to be the subject of unwanted verbal comments. On November 15, 2019, Johnson said in the video, the male followed the female to her car and made additional inappropriate sexual comments. Johnson says he once again shared his concerns and reported the incident to interim Superintendent Dr. Jim Causby on November 20, 2019. Johnson does not specifically name the man.
On December 3, 2019, Johnson said he met with fellow school board member Todd Sutton and made him aware of the latest incident. In the video, Johnson said Sutton told him he could get rid of the individual if Johnson would turn over the names of the two female employees and the evidence he had. Johnson said he felt uncomfortable turning over the names of the victims and the evidence.
During the December 10, 2019 Board of Education meeting, Todd Sutton was elected as the new board chair for 2020. Sutton read a statement indicating he took action within 24 hours after being notified of the allegations. Johnson alleges in the video Sutton was untruthful in his statement, because Sutton had known about the allegations for four months.
Lies About Money
In the video, Johnson says he and fellow board members Teresa Grant and Todd Sutton met with Dr. Causby on October 3, 2019. In the meeting, Johnson claims Dr. Causby told the 3 school board members the school finance officer purposely lied to the school board and Johnston County Commissioners.
The school finance officer, Johnson claims, purposely misrepresented and signed fictitious documents. Johnson said he was unsure if there was a crime committed but requested a forensic audit in October 2019. Johnson said the Board of Education has never reported this information to the public or to Johnston County Commissioners. A forensic audit has not taken place.
Johnson says in the video he is unsure if any school funds are missing but says someone lied. “When you lie about the public’s money, there is never a good reason.”
Conflict of Interest?
In the video, Johnson takes aim at fellow school board member Traci Zukowski for allegedly using her position to solicit products for her employer, Freckle, an educational software company. Johnson says Zukowski was told in 2018 not to sell products to Johnston County Schools but the software continued to be sold and a high ranking Johnston County School official appears to have been endorsing the products.
Johnson claims a July 2019 email sent by a school employee to principals encourages them to purchase Freckle products, and the purchase would go before the School Board in August 2019 for approval. Johnson says he cannot find where the expenses were approved by the school board during their August 2019 meeting. He says he has a copy of the email.
Johnson claims in the video former Chairman Mike Wooten knew about the potential conflict of interest involving Zukowski but took no action. Among the Freckle purchases were $60,000 for software and a proposed $3,000 expenditure for a two hour presentation and training, despite the school system having no money.
Ronald Johnson says an October 21, 2019 internal email he has obtained, indicates Freckle would be paid “off the top” when Johnston County Schools received additional funding from the County. In the video, Johnson says the same budgetary line item is used to pay teacher salaries, teacher assistants, and tutors. Johnson questions why money is being paid to Freckle when the money could be used to pay employees or help prevent possible layoffs due to the current budget crisis.
Johnson contends the potential conflict between Zukowski and Freckle and the software sales to the school system needs to be investigated. He says fellow board members have been aware of the potential conflict for months but have refused to take any action.
In the video, Ronald Johnson claims a high ranking school official attempted to bribe Clayton High Principal Bennett Jones. Johnson claims the official told Jones to take a stance against Johnson and publicly state he was the driving force behind recent issues at Clayton High School. In return for making the claims against Johnson, Jones was offered promises of keeping his job and a future promotion, Johnson says. When Jones refused to comply with the alleged bribery, Jones was removed from his position, Johnson alleges.
Search For Whistleblowers
Johnson claims in the video that unnamed school officials have spent 5 days in the month of December attempting to locate whistleblowers within Johnston County Schools providing him with details of the alleged harassment and corruption. Johnson said they are cabinet level officials but he did not state any names. He says the school system has a history of going after whistleblowers.
Johnson says he came forward with the new information in the video to protect the people providing him with information and not for any campaign or re-election purposes.
“I am going to do what is right and I’m not going to turn a blind eye when something’s wrong,” Johnson states in the video. “They know I’m telling the truth and I will prove it.”
Johnson says he has copies of text messages, emails, audio and video recordings to back up his allegations. He says Johnston County taxpayers and school system employees are paying the price for school system issues and the lack of transparency.
“I’m here trying to do the right thing. I just want someone to tell the truth. You can’t build a foundation for a relationship on a lie.”