Budget sparks discussion

By Kristy D. Carter - [email protected]
Johnson -

Dr. Wesley Johnson has been the superintendent for Clinton City Schools for one week, and he already appears to be ruffling feathers of board members by trying to freeze employee supplements.

As part of Johnson’s four-year plan to save the system more than $1 million, the board was presented with a proposed 2018-19 budget Thursday night, which includes saving the system $86,000 by freezing the supplements of teachers and administrators at the 2017-18 level.

For now, those supplements are safe, in part because of the keen eye of board member Dr. Stuart Blount, who noticed a difference between budget documents provided to the board Thursday morning and the one being presented for approval just hours later. The board tabled discussion of the item and recessed to reconvene on Oct. 15.

Other budget cuts presented were $124,000 in pension spikes, $42,500 from summer school, a decrease in professional development by half, saving $43,500, and a decrease in instructional supply money to $30,000, which is 75 percent of what was budgeted for 2017-18.

Just a week ago, the city school board met for several hours to discuss the budget and possible cuts that could be made to save the system money, and protect a shrinking fund balance. Even though Johnson had not officially taken over the superintendency at that time, he made his savings plan known to the board.

“Over the course of the next three or four years, we are going to make substantial cuts in our budget,” Johnson said to the board at this week’s meeting. “From now on, I will come to you with essential items, and if I can’t look at you and say it’s essential, we will cut it.”

Sources say talk of the board hiring Dr. Stewart Hobbs, former interim superintendent for Clinton City Schools, as a consultant for Johnson had apparently been discussed at some point, but that was ditched as part of the system’s plan to save.

“I pulled a contract agreement because I don’t see it as an essential item,” Johnson shared, without naming whose contract he referenced. While Hobbs’ name wasn’t mentioned during the meeting, talk of his contract-based position had been circulating among the faculty, staff and community.

The board spent more than 90 minutes talking about the budget Thursday night, only to take the adoption off the agenda and schedule a reconvened meeting for Monday, Oct. 15, to discuss further and approve.

Freezing staff supplements, Johnson said, would save the system $86,000 and is something neighboring system Sampson County Schools has done since 2008. Johnson worked for the county system as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction before coming to Clinton.

“Are we sure about freezing the supplements, and not notifying our employees,” Blount asked after the administration sought approval of the presented budgets. “The supplements are a financial obligation. How will we change what we have obligated to our employees?”

The 2017-18 allotment for supplements in the budget was $417,000. The allotment for the proposed budget dropped by more than $60,000 to $353,000.

If supplement increases are frozen, that means the employee will receive a supplement based on their previous year’s pay scale and not the pay scale for the current year. Blount’s concern, he said, was the possible legal ramification to the school if the board chose to change the supplement amount three months into the new year.

“If there has already been a property interest identified, how are we going to change that now,” Blount questioned.

According to CCS board attorney Adam Mitchell, a system-wide modification to pay is allowable by law, and would not cause the system to face legal action.

Teacher supplements are disbursed twice a year, first in October and then again in April. Administrators, or 12-month employees, receive their supplements in equal payments throughout the year. They have already received a portion in their July, August and September checks.

“We agreed that if we didn’t do something drastic, we would lose jobs,” board member Jason Walters said.

Blount, who agrees that the discussions were made, said there had never been an agreed-upon option, until now.

“I just don’t think we have looked at everything,” Blount said. “I will not pass a budget that freezes our employee supplements, especially if we haven’t explored other options.”

While Blount says he applauds Johnson for his efforts to save the system money, he doesn’t think the employees need to be the means for the savings.

“The savings doesn’t need to be on the backs of our employees and their supplements,” Blount said. “There are other things that can be done that won’t impact our employees. There are other ways to find $86,000.”

Despite hearing rumblings of supplements being frozen, Blount said employees still had no idea the modification would be made, and saving $86,000 wasn’t worth putting the burden on the employees.

“We could certainly freeze the supplements,” Walters said. “We have the legal right to do so. They are not losing money, they will get the same they got in 2017-18.”

According to Blount, when employees began working in August, they did so with the understanding they would get a 10 percent supplement. Those supplements, he added, need to untouched.

“It gives me pause that we did go through several options, but this is the only one we are being presented with,” board member Carol Worley said. “It would be helpful to receive some other recommendations. We need to do what is best for the employees in our district, and support Dr. Johnson.”

At the request of Blount, the budget adoption was pulled from Thursday’s agenda, with recommendations of other options to be presented to Johnson before Monday and a budget work session set for the a week later.

New CCS leader: ‘Substantial cuts’ coming

By Kristy D. Carter

[email protected]

Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. like us on Facebook.

Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. like us on Facebook.