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County might bail out public schools

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SMITHFIELD — Johnston County Commissioners say they are discussing a financial rescue of the county’s public schools.

In a statement Jan. 13, commissioners said they and school leaders are talking over “a supplemental funding plan for the remainder of this school year.”

“We are confident there will be a resolution soon,” commissioners said.

As they discuss a bailout, commissioners have requested detailed financial information from the schools for the past 12 months.

“In addition, the Board of Commissioners is requesting Johnston County Public Schools and Johnston County government to share detailed financial information with each other on a monthly basis,” the statement said.

County Manager Rick Hester and Commissioner Jeff Carver, a banker, are representing the county in talks with school leaders. “We’re asking a lot of questions,” Carver said, ‘but these questions need to be answered before I’m in a position to recommend the (supplemental funding) number should be.”

“We’re just trying to get through a bad situation,” he added.

In a statement of its own on last week, the Johnston County Board of Education said it hopes to avoid layoffs as it tries to close an $8.9 million gap between projected spending and budgeted revenue.

“If budgetary cuts become necessary, we will first protect those in the classroom and employees who work with students on a daily basis,” the school board said. “The Board of Education’s number one priority is the district’s 37,000 students.”

The board’s statement also elaborated on the discussions with county commissioners.

On Sunday, the statement noted, school board members Todd Sutton, Ronald Johnson and Mike Wooten met with Hester and Carver. The five talked about “supplemental funding to protect classroom teachers, teaching assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other staff essential to the day-to-day operations of Johnston County Public Schools,” the statement said.

“The Board of Education is committed to providing quality education and will continue to work diligently to protect our employees,” the statement continued. “We want to express our gratitude to the Johnston County Commissioners for their continued support of the Board of Education.

Sunday’s discussion came two days after the school board’s Finance Committee held an emergency meeting following the abrupt resignation of interim superintendent Jim Causby. The committee — made up of Johnson, Wooten and Teresa Grant — “is in the process of developing a plan of action that will prevent Johnston County Public Schools from enacting a reduction in force,” the statement said.

Sutton, the school board’s chairman, has asked Johnson to serve as the board’s liaison to county commissioners, the statement said. “We are optimistic a resolution will be reached in the next 14 days,” the statement added.

Sutton was traveling out of state later in the week but said in an email that the board’s finance committee would meet again soon. “And they will continue to collaborate with the county commissioners,” he said.

“We are moving forward in a positive direction,” the school board’s statement said, “and we will keep the public informed as new information becomes available.”