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Candidate seeks school records

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SMITHFIELD — A Johnston school board candidate is seeking public records he hopes will shed light on the school system’s budget woes.

On behalf of candidate Kay Carroll, Smithfield attorney Jack O’Hale presented the request to school board Chairman Todd Sutton after Sutton wrapped up a Jan. 2 news conference outside the Johnston County Courthouse. Sutton had called the news conference to rebut a fellow board member’s allegations of wrongdoing on the budget and other school matters.

Carroll said he was acting because no one else had. “I had hoped that someone in authority would have already called for a forensic audit that is obviously needed in light of all the accusations and allegations of wrongdoing” tied to school funds, he said.

Carroll said his ultimate goal was to have the school board or county commissioners order a forensic audit. “We all need to know when things started going wrong, identify where the problems are and the steps needed to correct them to ensure they are not repeated,” he said. “If it isn’t done, no one will have any confidence or clarity going forward.”

“I hope the requested records will provide us the answers to most of the allegations, one way or the other,” Carroll added. “I believe the public needs to have this information in order for us all to move forward together.”

The schools are short on cash, in part, because they have essentially spent their once-ample savings. Carroll’s records request suggests he knows where some of those savings went.

He is seeking a copy of a $16 million check the schools wrote to the county sometime in 2010, and he wants any meeting minutes that spell out the reasons for the transfer of school funds to county coffers.

Carroll also wants all records pertaining to a company called Cenergistic or any subsidiary of Cenergistic’s parent company. Specifically, he wants records of the schools’ financial dealings with Cenergistic and copies of any contracts with the company.

According to its website, Cenergistic is a company that helps public schools, local governments and universities save on their energy bills. Carroll also wants the names and salaries of anyone the schools hired to help in its dealings with Cenergistic, and he wants to know where the dollars for their salaries came from.

Carroll is also seeking any and all records pertaining to Freckle, a suite of educational software made by the company that employs school board member Tracie Zukowski. School board member Ronald Johnson has said he thinks Freckle represents a conflict of interest for Zukowski. At his news conference, Sutton said Zukowski long ago removed herself as the Freckle representative for Johnston schools.

Johnson has also said that Superintendent Jim Causby told him and other board members that the school system’s chief finance officer had lied about the school system’s finances. At his news conference, Sutton said he recalled no such statement by Causby.

Carroll wants to know for himself, and he is seeking records of anything the finance officer might have written or said about the school system’s cash reserves in 2018 and 2019.

O’Hale closed his request with this: “Please contact me within ten (10) business days of the date of this letter and advise as to a time and place that the inspection of the above listed records may take place. I appreciate your prompt attention to this request for public records pertaining to the Johnston County Schools and the Johnston County Board of Education.”