Board members present: Chairman Todd Sutton, Lyn Andrews,
Al Byrd, Kay Carroll, Ronald Johnson, Mike Wooten
Absent: Terri Sessoms
$104.5 MILLION IN U.S. RELIEF FUNDS BUDGETED
The board approved a budget for spending Johnston County's allocation of federal COVID-relief funds from the American Rescue Act. Chief of Finance Stephen Britt said Johnston's share of Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding is $104,536,421 – to be spent over the next three years.
Most of that total – $71,648,317 – is earmarked for "Learning Loss," which includes expenses for summer school, tutoring and extra class sessions, and Johnston's Virtual Academy.
Another $19,257,439 will go for "Resources," including Chromebooks and other take-home electronic devices used by students, while $11,551,624 is budgeted for "Health/Safety," which covers extra custodial help and cleaning supplies, upgraded HVAC and security systems, student-health services, and COVID contact tracing.
The balance of the money is set aside for administrative overhead and a reserve account for unanticipated expenses.
Mr. Britt told the board the ESSER budget can be adjusted at any time to meet changing circumstances between now and the end of the 2023-24 school year.
VIRTUAL ACADEMY ENROLLS 1,479 STUDENTS
Superintendent Eric Bracy reported that Johnston's Virtual Academy now has 1,479 students enrolled in remote learning at home for the entire 2021-22 school term. "Many of those students were home-schooled or at a charter school last year," he noted.
Also, the board learned that total enrollment in Johnston County Public Schools at the first of this week was up to 37,941. Chief of Finance Britt said that's about 1,000 students more than what the state had projected for Johnston following last year's number that was reduced by the coronavirus pandemic.
STUDENTS' TEST RESULTS HAD A FEW POSITIVES
The board received a summary of results from the past year's end-of-course and end-of-grade testing required by the state. While those numbers showed declines – with 42.% of Johnston's students scoring "proficient" in all tests, down from 52.9% two years ago (before the pandemic) – there were some positives, reported Kristy Stephenson, Johnston's director of school improvement and accountability.
For one thing, test participation by Johnston's students this past year was 97-98% despite the pandemic – higher than statewide participation of 92-93%, she noted.
Also, Johnston's high-school graduation rate remained above the statewide rate, backing off slightly from 91.7% in 2020 to 91.1% this year while the statewide rate dropped from 87.6% to 86.9%.
Additional encouraging news came from Johnston's Summer Learning Program, where 65.9% of students made progress in math and 58.9% in reading, yet just 23.3% in math and 26.6% in reading reached grade level.
Math and science, Ms. Stephenson concluded, are "our two big areas of focus" in light of the past year's test scores.
SSS STADIUM BLEACHERS TO BE REFURBISHED
The board approved a $995,000 contract with Muster Construction of Zebulon for several stadium projects, including repainting the home-side bleachers at Smithfield-Selma High's Charles Tucker Stadium, adding seats, and bringing those stands into ADA compliance for handicapped persons. Other bleacher projects will be done at Princeton and South Johnston high schools.
CONTRACT TO PROVIDE EXTRA CUSTODIAL HELP
The board approved a contract with Mitchell Temporary Services of Smithfield to provide auxiliary custodians throughout the school system at cost up to $250,000. Brooks Moore, the school system's chief of facilities and construction, said the extra help is needed to handle increased cleaning requirements because of COVID as well as the system's bus-driver shortage that's pulling custodians away from their normal duties. (Board member Mike Wooten recused himself from voting on the contract because of a potential conflict of interest that wasn't specified.)
TWO NAMED TO SMITHFIELD MIDDLE'S COUNCIL
The board approved Principal LaShunda Faison's recommendation to appoint Terri Lee and reappoint Deborah David to three-year terms on the Smithfield Middle School Advisory Council.
CORRECTION: NO LAWSUIT DEALING WITH CENERGISTIC
In a report from the school board's March meeting, the Sun incorrectly referred to an agreement terminating the schools' contract with Cenergistic as settlement of a lawsuit. John Bernard, Cenergistic's president, sent the Sun a letter last week pointing out that misstatement: "No lawsuit was involved in this settlement. The parties disagreed on the end date of the energy savings contract and amicably resolved their disagreement without necessity of litigation."
The Sun's report in the edition of March 11 noted that termination of the contract on December 31 rather than June 30 saved the school system more than $637,000. (In addition to this correction, the "lawsuit" reference has been removed from the Sun's archived original report).