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Schools double as churches during tough economic times

Steep budget cuts in Johnston County aren't only impacting the schools, but some churches as well.

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WENDELL, N.C. — Steep budget cuts in Johnston County aren't only impacting the schools, but some churches as well.

Every Sunday, the cafeteria at Archer Lodge Middle in Wendell is converted into a sanctuary for Christ Church.

"I don't think of it as being a cafeteria. I think of it as a worship center,” Christ Church attendee Jane Wolfe said.

Christ Church is a new nondenominational church that rents space at the school because it can't yet afford its own facility.

"We were 19 people when we started. Regardless of how much we personally sacrificed financially, it wasn't going to be enough to buy land and build a building,” Christ Church Pastor Phil Spry said.

The church pays $566 a month to rent space at the school. However, the Johnston County School Board recently voted to increase the fee it charges churches and non-profit groups to use its facilities.

The 19 churches countywide currently renting space at schools have not been told how steep the fee hike will be, but Superintendent Ed Croom said it will be less than originally proposed.

"I am fearful for the minority congregations, the African American and Hispanic congregations because they are operating on a razor-thin margin on their budgets," Spry said.

The fee increase will be the first for school facilities since the early 90s, Croom said.

Johnston County Schools continues to look for ways to balance its 2010-11 budget.  The district plans to eliminate 113 teaching positions next year because of financial cuts, district spokeswoman Terri Sessoms has said.

Sessoms said the cuts are state-driven but that it was unclear what the shortfall would be for the superintendent's budget until the state and county determine their allocations.

The district also plans to eliminate 12.5 custodian positions and two assistant principal positions.

Despite the job eliminations, as well as a $500,000 cut in spending on teaching assistants, Johnston County Schools has requested $56.2 million from the county – the same amount as the county funding during the 2009-10 school year.

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