Johnston County Schools’ budget still in flux

pseligson@newsobserver.comJune 16, 2014 

The Johnston County school system’s budget for next fiscal year remains in flux as the state House and Senate debate spending plans that could pay teachers more but cut teacher assistants.

“There are a lot of politics going on in Raleigh, and it’s having an impact,” Johnston Superintendent Ed Croom told the county Board of Education at its monthly meeting last week.

Johnston schools pay some teachers with county dollars, so any state raise in teacher pay would require a county match, Croom said. The budget he proposed pegged a pay raise at 3 percent, but the House budget raises teacher pay 5 percent, while the Senate wants to give 11-percent raises to teachers who give up tenure.

Croom has asked the county for $57.6 million in next year’s budget, up from $52.4 million this year. County Manager Rick Hester recommended $52.5 million for next year. County Commissioners are still working on the budget, so the schools don’t yet know their county allocation.

The Senate budget would pay for teacher raises by cutting teacher assistant positions. Croom said Johnston schools use teacher assistant dollars for both teacher assistants and regular teacher positions. Under the proposed cuts, Johnston would lose about 80 teacher assistants and 35 classroom teachers, Croom said. “That’s an additional concern of ours because our TAs drive our school buses,” he said.

Reading camps

Johnston County schools will host their first reading camps this summer.

Last year, the General Assembly passed “Read to Achieve,” a law that requires counties to offer summer reading camps for third-graders who failed their reading tests.

Originally, the law required a slew of new, short tests spread throughout the year. If a student passed them all on the first, this added nine hours of testing. If a student kept failing and had to take more tests, this could have added 30 hours of testing. In February, to cut down on testing, Johnston County schools adopted local tests already in use.

As of last week’s school board meeting, 339 of the county’s 2,618 third-graders still hadn’t passed the tests. Rodney Peterson, chief academic officer, said that number might fall by another 60 students if the General Assembly OK’s another exemption to Read to Achieve mandates.

The state provided about $440,000 for the camps, but the Johnston County school system estimates the cost at $750,000, leaving the schools to find an extra $310,000.

Starting in late June and ending in late July, the camps will meet from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays at two schools: Four Oaks Elementary and Selma Elementary. Students will work in small groups on whatever reading skill they are struggling with, whether that’s vocabulary, reading comprehension, grammar, etc.

“Whatever it is that they need is what our program is designed to do,” Peterson said.

Other business

In a 5-1 vote, the school board last week ended the requirement that high school students complete a senior project. Donna White cast the lone vote against scuttling the senior project. Peggy Smith was not at the meeting.

The board approved a policy change affecting students who have kids. Going forward, the mother or parenting father can miss up to three weeks of school before running afoul of attendance requirements. After three weeks, if the student still can’t return to school, the school system might provide in-home medical services. A doctor will have to write a note requesting the service. At that point, a student can be out for six weeks before attendance rules take effect.

The school system will now charge for preschool. The program is still free for students with disabilities, but parents with children without disabilities will have to pay $110 for five days a week of preschool, $66 for three days or $44 for two days. The change followed a state cut in funding for preschool, the school system said.

The board agreed to pay Bordeaux Construction $17.43 million to build a new North Johnston Middle School.

The school board learned that the federal government has given North Johnston Middle School Title I status. That means the school has a high percentage of low-income students. With the status will come more federal dollars for the school.

The school system will unveil an updated website on July 1. The overhaul aims to make it easier for parents to check to their child’s grades and to talk to their teachers.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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