PUBLISHED ONLINE MARCH 16, 2023   •   VOL. 5, NO. 11

Stories and photos by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
(Click on highlighted link to e-mail the editor)


School board OKs bonuses for all employees

The Johnson County Board of Education approved a Retention and Recruiting Plan at Tuesday's monthly meeting that will pay bonuses to all full-time and part-time employees of Johnston County Public Schools during the 2023-24 fiscal year that starts July 1.

The cost
"is not expected to exceed $7,485,000," said Chief of Finance Stephen Britt, who stressed that this is a one-time expense the school system can afford and "still be in a sustainable position" regarding funds held in reserve for unexpected expenditures.

The plan's recruitment element will offer bonuses in three categories:
• $4,000 for new teachers of Exceptional Children, secondary math, and secondary science newly hired to work at schools that got a grade of "D" or "F" from the state this past year and all schools in the "Smithfield feeder pattern."
•  $2,500 for all other new EC, secondary math, and secondary science teachers.
• $ 2,000 for all other newly hired certified instructional and certified support staff who start work between this July 1 and October 1.

For existing employees, bonuses will amount to $3,000 for EC, secondary math, and secondary science teachers working at "D" and "F" schools and those within the Smithfield feeder pattern. All other certified instructional and support staff will get $1,500, while all "permanent" classified staff will get $1,000.

All bonuses will be split into monthly payments and prorated for partial years employed.

"No way we would be able to afford this if it were (done) yearly," said Mr. Britt, who noted that the bonuses approved this week would come in addition to any others such as the Low Performing School Bonus, Referral Bonus, and state-funded bonuses yet to be determined for the upcoming school year.

MORE news from Tuesday's Board of Education meeting appears below.


Neal Davis shows off one of five new vans purchased for QuickRide, the new service offered by JCATS. The seven-passenger vans are equipped with mechanical lifts for wheelchair riders.

Smithfield-Selma tested for Uber-like "microtransit"

QuickRide is the brand for a new service being rolled out by JCATS, the Johnston County Area Transit System. It will operate like Uber, offering customers an opportunity to order rides at specific times to specific places.

As an experimental, or "pilot," project underwritten by an appropriation of $158,339 in the current county budget, QuickRide service is limited to the Smithfield-Selma area from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday at $6 per trip. Whether it continues beyond June 30 will likely depend on a supplemental appropriation in the 2023-24 county budget to be adopted by the County Commissioners this spring.

Its continuation would be a big step toward public-transportation service available to anyone in Johnston County. Up to now, JCATS has mostly served needy Johnstonians dependent upon taxpayer-subsidized rides to reach medical services, appointments with helping agencies like Social Services, Mental Health, and Vocational Rehabilitation, and programs offered at centers operated by Community & Senior Services of Johnston County, the agency formerly known as the Council on Aging that oversees JCATS.

Chris Johnson, the county's director of economic development, is especially pleased with the rollout of QuickRide service. "We get 'dinged' a lot by (industrial) site consultants due to the lack of traditional public transportation," he said in an e-mail to the Weekly Sun. "With JCAT's QuickRide service, this will soften the blow."

"I am hoping that area companies as well as future companies will look at this opportunity and possibly cover some or all of the transportation cost (for) their employees, " Mr. Johnson said.

Neal Davis, executive director of Community & Senior Services, said the original plan was to launch QuickRide last fall, but delayed delivery of the five vehicles purchased with a federal grant put off service till now. He acknowledged it will take time for word to spread about the service. QuickRide got requests for 11 rides this past
Monday, he reported.

"The Smithfield-Selma zone will enable us to measure rider demand and work out operational details," Mr. Davis said. "Based on these results we hope to secure funding to sustain the service and possibly expand it to Clayton and other urban areas of the county.”

An announcement from JCATS explains how QuickRide works:

Much like Uber, riders can submit a ride request using our smartphone app or call via telephone. Rides can be scheduled in advance and the service is curb to curb. Riders can also designate their required arrival (appointment) time. QuickRide technology instantly pairs the request with the nearest available vehicle and notifies the rider when they’re on the way. Riders can pay the $6 fare via credit card or cash. The fare covers any trip inside the service zone.

The QuickRide app for requesting service can be downloaded at Ride requests may also be phoned in to 919-202-5030.

Here's a map of the current QuickRide service zone:


School board lets contract for SSS auxiliary gym

The Johnston County Board of Education on Tuesday approved a $5,629,213 contract with Daniels & Daniels Construction of Goldsboro to build an auxiliary gymnasium at Smithfield-Selma High School. It's among the last batch of projects to be funded by the $61-million school-bond issue authorized by Johnston County's voters in 2018.

Brooks Moore, the school system's chief of facilities and construction, said the project's cost has more than doubled what was estimated when the bond issue was proposed five years ago. Nationally, he told the school board, average building costs have gone up from $179 per square foot in 2018 to $390 today.

The additional gym at SSS will relieve the school's dependence on shared quarters at the Smithfield Recreation & Aquatics Center, which is jointly owned by the Town of Smithfield and the county's school system.

Another contract approved by the Board of Education Tuesday will completely replace the tennis courts at SSS, which Mr. Moore said "are beyond repair." RDU Paving of Raleigh will do that work for $528,610.

Smithfield-Selma High will get a share of bleacher-repair work to be done at several schools under a $410,000 contract with Seating Safety Solutions of Liberty, N.C. Repairs to indoor bleachers at SSS will cost $66,188 while $1,996 will be spent fixing those outdoors.

The board approved an expenditure of $154,652 to pay half the cost of replacing two boilers at the Recreation & Aquatics Center. The Town of Smithfield has agreed to pay the other half to replace boilers in service since the SRAC opened in 2009.

Smithfield-Selma High added to list of "capped" schools

It's one of five schools in Johnston added to the list, which includes campuses "that do not have at least 61 available seats or more (based on design capacity)." Schools classified as "capped" cannot accept requests for student transfers. The others newly added to the list are MIcro, Princeton, and Riverwood elementaries and Swift Creek Middle. The addition of SSS to the list leaves just three of Johnston's eight high schools with space available for student transfers: North Johnston, Princeton, and West Johnston.

Cleveland Road site chosen for a new elementary school

The Board of Education approved the purchase of 20 acres on Cleveland Road across from Elizabeth United Methodist Church for $800,000 from Roberts & Wellons, Inc. The elementary school to be built there will be funded from the $177-million county bond issue approved by Johnston's voters last November.

To expedite that project, the board also approved on Tuesday a $2,520,000 contract with Ratio Design of Raleigh to draw plans for the new school, which Mr. Moore said would be two stories high.

Also on Tuesday, the school board gave its approval to buying 210 acres on the east side of Wilson's Mills that the County Commissioners have also approved as the site for a new high school as well as a future middle school and a recreation park. Located next to the Neuse River, the property is owned by KAT Properties of Johnston County, LLC. The purchase price is $4.2 million.

2023-24 calendar adopted with schools starting August 28

The Board of Education approved a calendar for the upcoming school year as recommended by a committee that considered 18 options, yet board members expressed their displeasure with leaders in the N.C. General Assembly who have ignored repeated statewide pleas for "local calendar flexibility."

The August 28 starting date for schools is required by state law because it's the closest Monday to August 26. Johnston's school leaders want a mid-August opening so the fall semester could end before Christmas without a cut in instructional days. In the 2023-24 calendar, August 16 will be the first of eight workdays for teachers before classes begin for students. The last school day for students next year will be June 6. 
VIEW the adopted students' calendar for the 2023-24 school year>

Appointments to JCC Board, Smithfield Middle Council

The board appointed Reid Williams to fill the remaining month of a term on the Johnston Community College Board of Trustees vacated by Benton Sawrey upon his election to the N.C. Senate. Mr. Williams is president of the I-95/I-40 Crossroads of America Economic Development Alliance.

Following a recommendation from Principal LaShunda Faison, the board appointed Jenita Rogers and reappointed Allison Jones to the Smithfield Middle School Advisory Council. Their terms are for three years. Mrs. Jones has served on the council since 2012, the board was told.

Board in disagreement on receiving evidence on censures

At the start of Tuesday's meeting, school-board member Michelle Antoine made a motion to add a slot at the end of the evening's agenda to allow Ronald Johnson to present evidence he claims would undermine the previous board's votes to censure him for violating several board policies.

Mr. Johnson seconded Ms. Antoine's motion, but the other five board members voted against it.

Vice Chair Terry Tippett said the board would give Mr. Johnson a chance to make his case, but only under rules of procedure agreed upon by the board's attorney and Mr. Johnson's lawyer – an agreement that has eluded negotiations between the two parties since the request came up at December's first meeting of the current board, which includes three new members: Kevin Donovan, Ms. Antoine, and Mr. Tippett.

The school board censured Mr. Johnson last August for secretly recording closed sessions and for intervening in a student-assignment matter. In October the board censured him a third time for sending inappropriate text messages about a school employee during meetings of the board.


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SSS soccer girls shut out South Johnston 6-0

The Smithfield-Selma girls' soccer team has a record of 3-3 after Tuesday's 6-0 victory over Quad County 3-A Conference rival South Johnston. Freshman Layla Jones led the Spartans' attack with three goals, freshman Jana Olaya scored twice, and senior Emily Stuckey once.

Meanwhile, both the SSS boys' baseball team and the girls' softball team were shut out in games at South Johnston on Tuesday – the boys by a score of 16-0, the girls 27-0.  The boys' team is now 2-1, the girls are winless in their first six starts.

Neuse Charter girls' soccer team shuts out Goldsboro

The Neuse Charter girls' soccer team is 1-2 after Tuesday's 1-0 victory at home versus Goldsboro.

The Cougar boys' baseball team lost to Eastern Wayne 13-1 last Thursday and 18-5 at home versus Mintz Christian Academy on Tuesday. Senior Jaedyn Teachey had two hits for Neuse Charter at Eastern Wayne. Senior Blane Barefoot had two hits and scored two runs in Tuesday's contest. The Cougars are now 1-4.


Library opens its own "Pantry" to assist patrons

The Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield has set up a "Community Pantry" to provide common essential goods to its patrons at no cost. Items currently available include reading glasses, earbuds, bar soap, toothbrush kits, and feminine sanitary products.

With donations from citizens and local businesses, the pantry will expand to include non-perishable food items and baby essentials. A list of acceptable donations is available at the library in Downtown Smithfield. For more information, call the library at 919-934-8146.

The Public Library's Community Pantry was funded in part by a grant from the Johnston County Unrestricted Endowment Fund, which is administered by the North Carolina Community Foundation.



As if waking up Sunday morning with the arrival of Daylight Saving Time wasn't enough to upset our biological clocks, we also got an unexpected coating of sleet, even though the air temperature was closer to 40 than the 32 reading we'd expect for frozen precipitation. Here's a shot of sleet building up on the editor's back porch beside some Spring-like pansies in bloom.

Power outage interrupted schools' "Showcase" at JCC

It occurred last Saturday afternoon as "Showcase of Stars" performances by Johnston County public-school students were getting under way in the auditorium at Johnston Community College. "We had a tree branch come down on a line causing a transformer to short circuit on Ward Street," reported Smithfield's Town Manager Mike Scott. "We were down about 30 minutes or so." Meanwhile, the interrupted "Showcase" performances have been rescheduled for this Saturday afternoon. A limited number of tickets may still be available. Here's where to check on that>


First day of Spring scheduled to arrive next Monday

We say "scheduled to arrive" as a cautionary note after last weekend's surprise return of Winter after a warmer-than-usual season. Spring's equinox, when the Sun shines directly above Earth's equator, will occur at 5:24 p.m. next Monday. The forecast for next Tuesday, the first full day of Spring, calls for party cloudy skies with a high of 57 and a low near freezing. That's more like Winter than Spring.

Johnston's County Commissioners meet again Monday

It's the meeting regularly scheduled for the third Monday of the month, coming on the heels of the county board's Strategic Planning Retreat at Campbell University this week (a report on that in next Thursday's Weekly Sun). Principal item on the agenda for Monday's 6 p.m. session at the Courthouse is continuation of the board's review of a proposed update of the county's Comprehensive Land Use Plan.
VIEW the complete agenda for next Monday's meeting>

High-school students' art exhibit opens at JCC next week

The opening reception is set for next Thursday (March 23) 5:30-7 p.m. in the Frank Creech Art Gallery at Johnston Community College (inside the STEAM Building at 301 Jaguar Drive on campus). Presented by the Johnston County Arts Council, the reception will be hosted by the Down-to-Earth Garden Club and Chick-fil-A of Smithfield (there's no charge for admission). The students' artworks will remain on display 1-5 p.m. Sundays from March 26 through the end of April.


Click on the name to read an obituary, usually posted by the funeral home

PHYLLIS ANN GULLIE, 80 – died March 10


The North Carolina Revelers paid tribute to Johnston County musicians of bygone years during a performance at Tuesday evening's Heritage Center Patrons Gala. The band's guitarist is Smithfield's Ned Attayek. Projected on the screen is one of several slides of pioneering local musicians – this one of a "Smithfield Band" from 1926 that included my father, his brother, and the legendary Bill Joe Austin.


Hail to the return of our community auditorium

It's good to see the Paul A. Johnston Auditorium at the Community College back in service. Closed for renovations a year or so before COVID's arrival, the auditorium came back to life last weekend with opening performances of the Johnston County Education Foundation's "Showcase of Stars."

Unfortunately, Saturday evening's performances had to be postponed when a power failure interrupted the show (those performances have been rescheduled for this weekend). But the lights were back on for Tuesday's Big Band tribute by the North Carolina Revelers, a professional orchestra based in the Triangle

A little history: The thousand-seat auditorium at Johnston Community College opened in 1989 following a fund-raising campaign pushed over the top by a substantial donation from industrialist Paul A. Johnston, a native of this county who went on to big-time success in business elsewhere (sadly, Mr. Johnston passed away in 1985 and missed the auditorium's opening).

Its completion was a dream of JCC's President John Tart, who tapped into a cadre of Smithfield folks who were looking for a way to replace the Smithfield High School auditorium destroyed by fire in 1976. This community, and the county as a whole, deserved a suitable place to showcase its wealth of talent in the performing arts.

It was disappointing the auditorium was out of commission from 2019 till now. COVID was the major reason for that, first prompting a cancellation of public events and then disrupting the supply chain to block timely delivering of materials needed to complete the renovation.

We're looking forward to a resumption of performances like the inaugural big-name touring shows that came our way and the Country Music Showcase that brought budding young talent to the stage, including singers like a young Clay Aiken who went on to fame as an American Idol finalist and Broadway performer.

Long-time servant
of Heritage Center
gets a thank-you

I was glad to see Mary Nell Lee Ferguson given a moment in the spotlight at Tuesday's Heritage Center gala – in honor of her 26 years as a "charter member" of the Johnston County Heritage Commission that guided the center's transition from the Public Library's Johnston County Room into the former home office of First Citizens Bank.

Mary Nell made her professional mark as a school principal in Wake County for 17 years and then at newly opened Cleveland Elementary School from 1992 till 2005. She seized the opportunity for appointment to the Heritage Commission in 1996. After all, it was her mother, the legendary Margaret McLemore Lee, who was the long-time guiding light of the center's ever-expanding collection of local history and genealogy.

But Mary Nell was passed over for reappointment to another term on the Heritage Commission last fall by the County Commissioners – without explanation. That was uncalled-for, as other long-time commission members continue to be reappointed.

She surely wasn't ready to be "put out to pasture."


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