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Schools defend budget request

Posted on June 20, 2022

Updated on June 25, 2022

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Finance chief Stephen Britt says Johnston schools would be reckless to spend their savings on salaries.

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Finance chief Stephen Britt says Johnston schools would be reckless to spend their savings on salaries.

sbolejack@johnstoniannews.com | 919-424-1776

SMITHFIELD — Johnston school leaders last week defended their request for more county dollars a year after getting a $9 million boost.

In part, last year’s big boost helped the schools raise pay for teacher assistants, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and other classified employees. Much of this year’s requested increase would help those workers climb more rungs on the pay ladder, school leaders noted.

“The budget we submitted to commissioners for operating expenses was an additional $8.4 million from the $79.9 million we got last year,” board member Lyn Andrews said. “Of that $8.4 million, $5.2 million was to go to our classified staff.”

With last year’s additional county dollars, the schools reduced the number of rungs on the classified pay ladder from 54 to 46 steps. Put another way, before last year, a teacher assistant could have worked for 30 years and still been 24 rungs from the top of the pay scale.

More money this year would reduce the number of rungs from 46 to 38.

“We’re trying to get it 30 years — a 30-step process,” Andrews said. “And I can tell you, we’re going to next to ask from 38 to 30.”

It’s true that the schools are sitting on hefty cash reserves and that they have tens of millions of federal COVID-relief dollars, said Stephen Britt, the school district’s finance chief. But the schools would be reckless to spend those one-time dollars on recurring costs like wages, he said.

“It’s kind of like when all the citizens received their stimulus money from Uncle Sam,” Britt said. “It was $1,200 or something like that.

“But you have to be careful with that. You wouldn’t want to go out and buy a car. That’s a great down payment, but it’s not going to make your payments going forward.”

The same is true for the schools, Britt said. “We have stimulus money,” he said. “It’s a one-time pot of money. So once that money is gone, it’s going to pretty dramatically change our financial position.”

Some classified employees with 20 years of experience make less than $15 an hour, Britt noted.

“None of us think that’s good,” Andrews said.

And inflation has made that wage worth even less today, Britt said. Stephen. “We were already behind before inflation hit, so it’s exacerbated the problem,” he said. “It’s quite a bit worse now, and it’s getting worse each day as inflation occurs.

“We’re trying to catch up as best we can, but we would need recurring funding to support that.”

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