Without Additional School Funding 480 Layoffs Could Take Place As Early As March

(This story was written prior to the resignation of Superintendent Dr. Jim Causby)

SMITHFIELD – Johnston County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Causby says he has started preparations to lay off as many as 480 school employees as early as March 2020 unless Johnston County Commissioners provide immediate funding to address a budget shortfall.

During the December 2019 meeting of the Board of Commissioners, Dr. Causby formally requested $8,874,429 to meet a shortfall in the current 2019-2020 fiscal year budget.  Causby said the school board would likely run out of money in April 2020 unless additional funds were obtained from the County.  Causby said he had already trimmed more than $7 million from the budget after he arrived as interim superintendent in August 2019. He said it was the first time in more than 30 years as a superintendent in various school districts he has ever had to go back to a board of commissioners and ask for more money.

On Thursday, Dr. Causby told JoCoReport, “Since (the Dec. meeting), we’ve been doing everything we can to save money. The local budget deficit is still about $6 million. Commissioners have still not given us an answer and with the other stuff going on I can understand that.”

Causby said he will formally ask the Johnston County School Board at their January 14th meeting for approval to have one more meeting with county commissioners.

“One positive action this week is (Commissioner) Chairman Ted Godwin appointed a committee to look at all the facts and try to reach an agreement.”  The committee will meet on Jan. 16th pending formal school board approval at their Jan. 14th meeting.

“I am optimistic something will come from that but I have to be ready in case it doesn’t. When I met with Commissioners in December I told them half the year is gone. If you don’t fund this I have to make a plan.”

“If nothing happens we will move forward and put in place a reduction in force plan.  Probably the quickest the (school) board can approve it is the February meeting. It requires notices to employees and everyone is entitled to an appeal. The time line is March 2020. That leaves three months to recoup $6 million.”

“If you take the average salary of $50,000 a year, all you can save is one-quarter of a year or $12,500. If you divide $12,500 into $6 million you get 480.  That’s how many people there would need to be,” Dr. Causby said.

Dr. Causby did not indicate whether teachers are part of the potential 480 layoffs. Unconfirmed reports indicate 10 people from every school in Johnston County could be impacted.

Causby said potential layoffs are the last thing he wants to do but says without funding from County Commissioners there are no other options.

Johnston County Commissioner Chairman Ted Godwin said he looks forward to meeting with school leaders next week. “We want to sit down with their team and look at shortage and help each other understand what is mission-critical and what is not. We don’t want to short change our hard working dedicated school employees. But at the same time the school board must deal with the fact that there is no endless well of funds and tough decisions must be made. If asked, most citizens in Johnston County would say ‘make cuts in central office or in unproven programs….not in our classrooms’. Our goals is to get both boards to where we can feel good about the final outcome. As far as timing on any funds approved, I don’t think that will be an issue.”

Causby added, “During the 2009-2010 recession, county commissioners fund balance dropped significantly. The two boards met and the board of education stepped up to help county commissioners 10 years ago. Now it’s time to return the favor.”

County Manager Rick Hester said Friday morning, it was 10 years ago Johnston County Schools transferred $16 to $18 million back to Johnston County Government.  However, Hester said some of the funds was reallocated back to schools during the next two budget cycles.  “Everyone agreed at the time the funds were better in the county’s reserves than the school system reserves for bond rating purposes, etc. especially with our aggressive school building and renovation program.”

Central Office Budget Higher Than Transportation Or Facilities
The 2019-2020 Johnston County Schools budget totals $312,120.682. Of that amount, $227,605,201 is state funds, $70,560,469 in local (county) funds, and $13,955,011 in federal funds.

Of that amount $276,538.924 (88.6%) goes directly to Schools.  $11,236,344.60 (3.6%) goes towards Transportation costs, $8,115,137.73 (2.6%) is earmarked for Facilities, and $16,230,275.50 (5.2%) is set aside for the Central Office.

Local Dollars Fund 273 School Positions
Local, or county funds in the 2019-2020 budget,  includes funding for 273.6 paid positions in Johnston County Schools. Of that number 155 are positions within actual schools.  The 155 positions paid for by the County include 70 teachers, 38 assistant principals, 7 nurses, 13 technology employees, 1 athletic director, and 1 Choice Plus administrator.  40.6 positions at the Central Office are paid for with local Johnston County dollars. The remaining funds are paid for with state and federal monies.