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SMITHFIELD — Johnston County Public Schools Interim Superintendent Jim Causby will appear before Johnston County commissioners at their Dec. 2 meeting and ask for nearly $8.9 million to help erase the deficit in the school system’s general fund.
Causby made the announcement during a budget update at the Nov. 12 school board meeting.
County Board of Commissioners Chairman Ted Godwin said Friday the board will have an open mind and welcome Causby’s request.
“I think we all want to support the school system appropriately, but we want to understand that taxpayers’ money is being spent as it should be and we’ll explore wherever money can be saved,” said Godwin. “We have a responsibility to provide funding for schools, but we are not going to abdicate our responsibility to Johnston County taxpayers.”
“As all of you know, we’re dealing with a local current expense budget that’s not very pleasant, not very good,” Causby told the school board. “When I first came here, I was informed there was a budget problem. I began to look into it and brought you a preliminary report in October, as I came and actually started looking into it in early September.”
Causby said former Superintendent Ross Renfrow and the cabinet had already begun to identify areas for reduction to help with the budget. Reductions made by the former administration were nearly $2.8 million.
“The numbers I arrived at were after these things were done,” said Causby. “The way I arrived at where we was working with our budget staff and financial staff to identify every single position that had been allocated system-wide.”
Causby said other things that needed to be dealt with — insurance and property costs and salary increases — were added.
“At that time, the need we came up with in the current budget, the needed revenue was $83,868,550 needed to fund all of these things for this year. That was after all those other reductions,” said Causby. “We then began to look at some other reductions of $7,048.203, with the effort of keeping it as far away from the schools as possible and also not having anyone lose employees.”
But Causby said there are some reductions that will affect the entire school system.
“Unfortunately, when you’re talking these big numbers, there are some thing that affect all aspects of the school system,” said Causby. “So we’re not happy with any of them, but they are things we think we can live with.”
Causby said the projected local budget revenue needs are $76.8 million. The current Johnston County allocation for the schools is $67.9 million and he plans to ask the county for an additional appropriation of $8.9 million.
“These are numbers I recommend to you that we stay with,” said Causby. “As the board, you certainly have the authority to change if you want to, but we worked pretty darn hard to be able to identify these areas. We’ve reviewed every single thing we could find to review.”
In 2018-19, Causby said $69.9 million in local funds were used. In 2019-20, $76.8 million was needed, an increase of $6.9 million.
Causby said one of the reasons for $8.5 million in increased expenditures for 2019-20 was the increased cost for meeting the exceptional children’s program’s needs.
The state provides funding for 12.75% of EC students, 4,717 students in grades K-12. Johnston County’s EC students this year are 17% of the total student population, 6,290 students. That’s 1,573 EC students not funded by the state. The total amount unfunded by the state is nearly $9.4 million.
“If we don’t get all that amount from the county, then we’ll have to come back — and it will mean a reduction that includes personnel,” said Causby.
School Board Vice Chairwoman Peggy Smith asked about the $5,955 per student the state and federal governments offer.
“We have EC students who are far more expensive than that,” said Smith. “We have some who have one-on-one assistance. Is that figure an average?’”
“It’s the average that the state funds,’” said Causby. “Different states handle it differently. If it’s a profoundly handicapped student, we have some students that cost us over $50,000 per year. They have their own nurse, physical therapist and sometimes they even have their own bus.”
Board member Terri Sessoms thanked Causby and his staff for their commitment to protect the classroom as much as possible.
“I know these are difficult decisions to make. And I also want to thank you for your commitment to the teacher supplement paid this month,” said Sessoms. “ I’ve heard from many teachers that the supplement made all the difference on whether they did Christmas shopping or paid property taxes.”
School board Chairman Mike Wooten thanked Causby for what he described as a thorough synopsis of the budget and where JCPS stands today.
“I know you haven’t been here long, but you’ve spent every day of your short time here to get us where we need to be,” said Wooten. “We’re going to meet on a monthly basis to make sure we keep our finger on the pulse of this budget.”
Wooten said just a small change in circumstances with JCPS can cost a lot of money.
“We’ve got a large school system and it all adds up to a lot of money. We all have stakeholders to answer to,” said Wooten. “The only way we can do that is to keep our finger on the pulse monthly and see where we are each and every month. I challenge the board to continue to do that and keep it our No. 1 priority that we continue to protect the classroom.”
Board member Teresa Grant said she knows parents who’ve moved to Johnston County with exceptional children and are pleased with the way their children are treated.
“They like the way their students learn in our school system,” said Grant. “That 17% shows that there are a lot of parents out there who feel the same way. I know we have to do something. I’m concerned with cutting teacher positions. It would be great if we could get more funding to handle the exceptional children and not have to take that avenue.”
Causby said the school district can’t spend money it doesn’t have.
“We have not put a hiring freeze in place,” said Causby. “We’re moving forward. But we’re looking at each one of them as we do to make sure they’re essential.”
Board member Ronald Johnson said there will be critics of the current budget process.
“I get it, but there will be a lot of people lined up to throw stones,” said Johnson. “This is a situation we hope will improve, but until we address the number of people moving to this county, who want to go to school, work and live here. There are things which we’re having to pay for without being given adequate or any funding. This is going to continue to be a problem.”
Smith thanked Causby for his transparency.
“As a policy review committee member, we’re not much involved the budget,” said Smith. “But this has been a very eye-opening and appreciative process.”