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PUBLISHED ONLINE JUNE 13, 2024   •   VOL. 6, NO. 24

Content produced by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
(Click on highlighted link above to e-mail the editor)

 


Smithfield-Selma High School graduates 371

That's the number of graduating seniors listed on the program for the high school's 55th annual Commencement, held last Friday on a warm and sunny morning before a crowd of well-wishers that overflowed the stands at Charles Tucker Stadium. Last year's SSS graduating class numbered 306.

A total of 2,579 students graduated from Johnston County's high schools this year. That's down from 2,939 reported a year ago.

Friday's Commencement at SSS was the first for Principal Crystal Gregory, who took over last summer for David Allen, who had served the school for 16 years as a teacher and administrator including six years as its principal.

Here's the program from Friday's Commencement that lists the graduates as well as the school's administrators, homeroom teachers, counselors, and student marshals>


New auxiliary gymnasium at SSS is finished at year's end

Lyn Andrews, who chairs the Johnston County Board of Education, got to take the ceremonial "first shot" at a basketball goal inside the recently completed facility as part of a ribbon-cutting celebration held last Thursday, the final day of classes for the 2023-24 school term. Ms. Andrews looks like she knows what she's doing. That's because she was a standout basketball player at SSS in the 1970s when that as the school's only interscholastic sport for girls. (Johnston County Public Schools photo)
 



Town welcomes federal grant for police body cams

U.S Representative Wiley Nickel (on the right) came to town Monday morning to present a $124,000 federal grant to the Smithfield Police Department for 45 body cameras plus data storage. Mr. Nickel said the grant to Smithfield is one of 15 appropriations totaling $13 million he has recently secured for the state's 13th Congressional District, which encompasses all of Johnston County; and he announced he is working on a $4.9-million grant to help pay for a proposed new fire station in North Smithfield. Standing with the Congressman during Monday's check presentation are (left to right) Mayor Pro Tem Roger Wood, Chief of Police Pete Hedrick, and Councilman Marlon Lee.
 


2.4 acres for sale at 1558 W. Market St. in West Smithfield
Located across from Rose Manor Shopping Center close to intersection with M.Durwood Stephenson Parkway. Just west of Downtown Smithfield. Zoned commercial by the Town of Smithfield. $498,000 MLS# 10021671 (Photo by ShowSpaces Photography)

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School leaders make their case for more county aid

Board of Education Chair Lyn Andrews and Assistant Superintendent David Pearce took the lead roles in presenting data to the County Commissioners Monday evening to explain the reasons for hefty increases in county funding for both operations and capital projects in the year ahead.

For starters, Ms. Andrews said the school board learned last week that the state is cutting Johnston’s funding allotment by 42.5 teaching positions for the 2024-25 school term. "If we keep those teachers, we've got to pay for them some other way," she told commissioners.

Furthermore, Johnston's system anticipates a $2.9-million cut in state "low wealth" funding – from $17.9 million currently to "maybe" $15 million, Ms. Andrews said.. "When the value of homes goes up in a district, the low-wealth funding is going to drop," she said, adding that those funds cover the annual cost of 100 employees.

The end of federal grants under ESSER, the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief program enacted by Congress in response to the COVID pandemic, will result in a reduction in social workers and nurses in Johnston's schools, Ms. Andrews noted. "Teachers are burned out," she said, and are in need of help from more, not fewer, of those employees.

Presently, the county's school system employs one social worker per 2,500 students and one nurse for two schools, Ms. Andrews noted.

Responding to a question from Commissioners' Chairman Butch Lawter, Ms. Andrews said the school board's funding request basically includes two new initiatives: a $1,500 annual increase in teacher supplements and restoration of extra pay the state once provided all teachers that earn master's degrees.

In his proposed budget for 2024-25, County Manager Rick Hester has recommended increasing the appropriation for school operations from $88.5 million to $93.3 million. The school board has requested $111.8 million, noting that $12 million was added to the county's appropriation this past year from the schools' General Fund Balance.

Beyond that, the Board of Education has requested an increase in capital funding from $6 million currently to $28.8 million.

Assistant Superintendent Pearce said the main thing behind that request is a desire to be "proactive" with preventative maintenance. "We're in a reactive mode right now," he told commissioners. For instance, Johnston's schools have 69 HVAC "chillers" that are "at the end of their life cycle," Dr. Pearce noted. "One event could drain this budget very quickly."

Another concern is replacement of aging school buses. "I've been told departments in County Government replace vehicles at 150,000 to 160,000 miles," said Dr. Pearce, noting that the schools operate 16 vehicles with over 150,000 miles, 10 over 175,000 miles, 31 over 200,000 miles, and four registering more than 300,000 miles. "You don't want to put money into some of those vehicles," he said. "It's a waste of our taxpayer dollars."

School Board Vice Chair Terry Tippett came forward to sum up the evening's presentation on a lengthy list of needs to maintain and improve Johnston's public schools. "If you want it, you've got to fund it," he declared.


VIEW details of the schools' funding request below the proposed county budget>


School board heads toward new attendance districts

At its monthly meeting Tuesday evening, Johnston's Board of Education got a schedule for moving toward adoption of revised school-attendance districts by the end of this calendar year. That would give parents and students ample notice of changes prior to the opening of two new schools: Swift Creek Elementary next summer, Wilson's Mills High School the following year.

Mike Miller of N.C. State University's Operations Research and Education Laboratory (OREd) – which advises Johnston's school system on facilities planning – laid out a six-month plan for redrawing districts. His staff will present preliminary boundary adjustments to the school board in August, "community engagement" including public meetings and online portals will follow in September, with a final recommendation coming to the board in October followed by adoption of the redistricting plan in November.

It will be implemented over a two-year period starting when Swift Creek Elementary opens next summer, Mr. Miller said. "The plan will not satisfy everybody," he warned. However, "we're not going to move families twice," he emphasized.

Mr. Miller pointed out that the redistricting plan will be based on a countywide review of existing boundaries. Beyond attendance districts for the two new schools, planners will also consider the impact of revised districts in light of new additions at Benson Elementary and Cooper Academy in Clayton as well as a proposed classroom addition at Cleveland High, he noted.


New Wilson's Mills High School to cost $113 million

The school board approved a contract with Barnhill Contracting Company that caps the maximum construction cost of the new Wilson's Mills High School at $99,816,808. "Miraculously, this price is only $1,652,508, or 1.7%, over the original 2022 budget," noted Brooks Moore, the school system's chief of facility design and construction.

With this agreement, total cost of the new school is now $113,122,636, Mr. Moore told the board. That's about $3.3 million over an original estimate, he said.

Board member Kay Carroll cast the only vote against approving the cost-cap agreement after registering a complaint about the school's design. "Interior classrooms (with no windows) are something we should not be doing," he said.

Although she voted in favor of the agreement, Michelle Antoine said she was in agreement with Mr. Carroll and cited other design elements she didn't like including a front vestibule located next to the cafeteria with the library on top of that.

The board also expressed interest in learning more about the pros and cons of installing synthetic turf instead of grass on the main football and soccer field.


Parking lots at three schools will be refurbished

The board approved contracts with Paving Professionals, a regional company, to rebuild the surfaces of bus parking lots at Smithfield-Selma High and West Smithfield Elementary that will be "milled with overlay and restriping." A similar project was approved for a parking lot and carpool lane at Four Oaks Elementary School. The three contracts total $402,650.

Schools to save $2.4 million on annual insurance bill

The board approved the annual contract for its insurance package that makes "significant changes in vendors and processes that will result in significant savings," notes a memo accompanying the proposal from Alliant, an insurance broker employed by the board back in December.

Cost of the new package totals $2,475,309, which is $2,431,445 less that the sum of the current year's $3,906,754 plus another $1 million in increases projected in the year ahead under the discarded arrangement.

 




For 816 children, Read to Grow "Booked for Summer"

Story & photo from Partnership for Children of Johnston County

Read to Grow Johnston County hosted its second annual Booked for Summer events, creating opportunity and excitement for 816 students across the county.

The events encourage summer reading by providing first and second-graders with books to enjoy during the break. First graders received Pete the Cat: Too Cool for School. Second graders received Narwhal and Jelly 1: Unicorn of the Sea.

In addition, all participating students were given two more books of their choice, a parent flyer with summer reading ideas, and a notebook and pencil to encourage both reading and writing during the summer months.

Booked for Summer was made possible through collaboration with South Smithfield, West Smithfield, Selma, and Benson elementary schools.

“Reading proficiently by the third grade serves as a strong predictor of future academic success,” explained Heather Machia, Read to Grow coordinator. “Events like Booked for Summer play a crucial role in bridging the gap for first and second-graders at risk of falling behind.”

Read to Grow involves support from business leaders, faith community members, families, My Kid's Club, Johnston County Public Schools, and the Partnership for Children. Read to Grow is working to connect resources, develop initiatives, and achieve the targets and milestones to impact the three pillars of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading: kindergarten readiness, chronic absenteeism, and summer learning loss. For more information, contact Ms. Machia at 919-397-7822
.
 



WHAT'S COMING UP

Two Juneteenth celebrations scheduled in Smithfield
Juneteenth is celebrated nationally to commemorate the official abolition of slavery in the State of Texas on June 19, 1865 – two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War.
The Town of Smithfield will host a celebration from noon till 6 p.m. this Saturday at the Neuse River Amphitheater featuring a band called Soul, Rhythm & Groove along with food trucks.
• East Smithfield's annual event begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, June 22 with a parade from the Johnston Central Alumni Center to Smith-Collins Park, where a free cookout will follow with music provided by DJs Sham Rock and Ricky C.


301 yard sale Friday & Saturday, triathlon Saturday a.m.
The two annual events continue to fall on the same day (the third Saturday in June), with the Endless Yard Sale along US 301 starting its two-day run on Friday. The Three Little Pigs Triathlon begins early Saturday morning at the Smithfield Recreation & Aquatics Center and includes a bicycle segment along Buffalo Road northward to the Live Oak community and back. For that, portions of Stephenson Parkway and Kellie Drive will be closed to vehicles from 7 till 10:30 a.m.

County Commissioners may adopt budget on Monday
Johnston's County Commissioners will meet at 6 p.m. Monday at the Courthouse for their regular second monthly session. On the agenda is adoption of the county's budget for the new fiscal year that starts July 1 along with consideration of an appropriation beyond the budget for an expansion of Cleveland High School.
VIEW the complete agenda for Monday's meeting>


Town Council meets with DSDC board Monday evening
The Smithfield Town Council will meet with the Downtown Smithfield Development Corporation's board at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall "to enhance communication between the Town Council and the DSDC concerning operations, events, and a potential social district," reads the official notice of the special session.

Town Council to get another Buffalo Road plan Tuesday
The Smithfield Town Council will conduct a public hearing on conditional rezoning for a 210-lot single-family subdivision on 140 acres of open land at 1041 Buffalo Road during its meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall. This request is separate from a controversial 220-lot subdivision still under consideration on the other side of Buffalo Road next to the Bradford Park subdivision (that plan is scheduled to come back before the council at its July 9 meeting).
VIEW the complete, relatively short agenda for Tuesday's meeting>

 




DEATHS & FUNERALS

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

ROY GENE GILMORE, 83 – died June 11

JAMES RONALD (RONNIE) GREENE, 74 – died June 11

ORLANDO JOE DANIELS, 74 – died June 10

SUDIE EASTERLING GOWER, 78 – died June 10

DOUGLAS WADE SHIRLEY, 84 – died June 9


NORMAN COOPER SUTTON, 80 – died June 8
 


A WORD (OR TWO) FROM THE EDITOR

Will County Commissioners shortchange schools?

Johnston's County Commissioners recently learned from financial advisors that the county could comfortably afford a $260-million bond issue over the next couple of years without jeopardizing the county's recently achieved AAA bond rating. And yet they settled on putting a $150-million issue before Johnston's voters in November's General Election.

That, despite a $285-million issue requested by the Johnston County Board of Education and an $85-million issue requested by trustees of Johnston Community College – both to keep pace with rising demand for educational opportunities fueled by unprecedented population growth all around us.

Not only that, but the Board of Education had thoughtfully planned to spread out the financing of new school facilities with three successive bond issues: the one approved by voters two years ago, a second to be considered this year, and a third to follow two years from now. Cutting back the size of this year's proposed issue puts undue pressure on winning approval of an adequate amount in 2026.

Then, commissioners last week appeared to agree on cutting the county's tax rate by two cents in the year ahead in spite of the school board's convincing case for another sizeable increase in county funding of public schools. That two-cent cut will be more palatable to advocates of public education if the commissioners surprise us by approving the school board's funding request in full – as they did last year when they cut the tax rate by four cents.

During Monday's budget appeal before the commissioners, school leaders pointed out that Johnston County ranks 110th in per-pupil expenditures among North Carolina's 115 school districts, spending $1,484 per pupil below the state average.

If we're able to afford to take care of mounting public-school needs without "breaking the bank," why not just do it?



Dorothy Johnson: a pioneer of the Age of Integration

Just learned this week about last month's passing of Dorothy Johnson at age 84 in Petersburg, Virginia where she grew up and spent the final years of her life. She made history in 1998 as the first African-American to win countywide election here, and she won re-election to the Johnston County Board of Education four times for continuous service of 20 years. At one point she was the board's vice chair.

Yet she was perhaps even better known for her 30 years of work as a home economist with the Johnston County Agricultural Extension Service (today's Cooperative Extension Service), serving in that capacity from the mid-1960s through the mid-1990s. I first got to know Dorothy when the Extension Service teamed up with The Smithfield Herald to put together an annual sweet-potato recipe contest during the early years of the Ham & Ham Festival. She single-handedly ran that event, and she ran it very well.

Dorothy retired from Extension work in 1995. But she never retired from community volunteer service during all her many years as a resident of Johnston County.

Here' the link to her lengthy obituary, which sums up the whole story>

 



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