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Superintendent Renfrow retires amid Clayton High controversy

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SMITHFIELD — After a closed-door Johnston County Board of Education meeting Aug. 27, school board Chairman Mike Wooten announced Superintendent Ross Renfrow’s retirement effective the following day. Renfrow was not present for the meeting.

The board met briefly in open session at 6 p.m. and went into closed session for 45 minutes. When the board reconvened in open session, Wooten announced Renfrow’s retirement, which members voted unanimously to accept.

PRINCIPAL MOVED, COACH QUITS

While school officials offered no indication the events are linked, Renfrow’s retirement comes amid a turbulent summer at Clayton High School.

Renfrow transferred former Clayton High Principal Bennett Jones to the central office on Aug. 12, tasking Jones with serving as lead administrator for the Choice Plus program.

In June, Johnston County Public Schools launched an investigation of alleged grade-tampering at Clayton High to assure a student’s academic eligibility to play on the football team.

The school board won’t comment on the investigation’s status. But former Clayton High football coach Hunter Jenks, who resigned Aug. 20, wrote in his resignation letter, “I appreciate that Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow took the time to meet with me at Clayton High School on Tuesday, Aug. 13, to reassure me and the members of the 2019 Clayton football program that there was no evidence of academic fraud, player ineligibility or recruiting found as a result of the 10-week investigation this summer.”

School board members did not comment on Jones’ transfer last week.

PARENTS PACK BOARDROOM

Clayton parents and students filled the boardroom during the Aug. 27 meeting. They also gathered in the hallway and rallied outside the building.

The Clayton High Parent Advisory Council has written the school board twice requesting a meeting with a meeting with the entire board to discuss Jones’ reinstatement.

“Several school board members have met with Clayton PAC members,” Wooten said. “However, there’s very little we can share due to personnel confidentiality.”

Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle, who serves on the parent advisory council, confirmed Wooten’s statement.

“I have met with Mike Wooten once, after the first letter, and had a phone conversation with him Monday after the second letter,” said Doyle. “(School board member) Ronald Johnson met with us as well; however, the PAC has still been denied an opportunity to meet with the entire board as requested.”

INTERIM SUPERINTENDENT

Former superintendent James Causby was unanimously appointed interim superintendent effective this Tuesday. He was appointed to serve through June 30. Causby previously worked as superintendent from 1994-2003.

School board attorney Jimmy Lawrence said Causby will be paid the same salary and benefits as Renfrow.

“Since his home is in Asheville, he will rent a place here, and the board will reimburse his housing expenses up to $1,000 per month,” Lawrence said. “By the way, he will not be taking retirement or insurance, which will save the board some money also.”

Prior to Causby’s arrival, Brian Vetrano, the school system’s chief of human resources and financial services, was appointed to serve as acting superintendent.

‘HONOR AND PRIVILEGE’

Renfrow has not discussed his retirement publicly, but JCPS spokeswoman Delores Gill released a statement on his behalf Aug. 27.

“It has been my honor and privilege to serve the students of Johnston County Public Schools, and I look forward to other work-related opportunities,” said Renfrow, “but most importantly, spending much needed time with family.”

In the same statement, Wooten applauded Renfrow for his 30 years in public education, the last 26 spent in Johnston County as a teacher, coach, principal, deputy superintendent and superintendent.

“Dr. Renfrow’s retirement culminates a long and dedicated career in education, and his service to students of Johnston County Public Schools is appreciated,” said Wooten. “We wish him the best in retirement and all his future opportunities.”

$75,000 PAYOUT

Renfrow will receive a lump-sum payment of $75,000 from Johnston County Public Schools by Sept. 26.

Gill released a copy of the school board’s retirement agreement with Renfrow the day after last week’s meeting.

The agreement states that Renfrow “freely and voluntarily retired” and that the Board of Education agreed “to accept Dr. Renfrow’s resignation and retirement.”

The $75,000 payment will come from the school system’s unassigned fund balance. Renfrow will also receive his full salary through the end of August and his current health insurance, including that of his dependents.

Renfrow stipulated that the agreement constitutes a settlement of any he claims he might have against the Board of Education or school district employees prior to Aug. 27.

If the state retirement system has not processed Renfrow’s retirement application by Sept. 25, the school board will cover his insurance until the state confirms his application is accepted.

Each board member and Renfrow agreed not to make any disparaging comments about Renfrow during his employment with Johnston County Public Schools.

At the time of his retirement, Renfrow earned $223,189.68 per year.

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