Legislators talk about plans, answer questions at chamber’s annual breakfast
SALISBURY — Education was among the focus points as state lawmakers met with local business leaders at the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative breakfast Friday morning.
Reps. Harry Warren and Carl Ford, and Sens. Andrew Brock and Gene McLaurin, took anonymous, hand-written questions from those gathered. That included several towns’ leaders, city officials and most of the Rowan County commissioners.
Though education dominated most of the questions, a few other topics such as unemployment and the Rowan County airport de-annexation crept into the conversation.
One question revolved around teachers’ pay, which has sharply declined in national rankings, thrusting North Carolina into the role of one of the lowest paying states in the country.
“How should the legislature respond to this plummet in order to maintain and recruit quality teachers?” former Chamber President Greg Edds read.
“Teachers have a tremendous responsibility all across our state and all across our country,” McLaurin responded. “I agree. We’ve gotten behind and we have to figure out a way to do it.”
McLaurin noted education is a priority for him and that he is a product of public schooling, both at the community college and university level.
“We’re losing too many good teachers,” he said. “Frankly, I’m open to some ideas that are I know being discussed in Raleigh about some sort of merit pay. So that we can give those teachers that are successful in the classroom an opportunity to earn more money based on performance.”
McLaurin also said the pay scale would have to be fair, since each teacher has different kids to work with.
Warren echoed McLaurin’s concerns about merit based pay.
“To evaluate a teacher’s performance based on the student’s performance is very problematic,” he said, “because they do not all have the same set of circumstances that they’re working with.”
But he noted that in the business community, some sort of evaluation is necessary to determine appropriate pay scales.
Warren said local school boards and schools could see benefits by having more power.
“We have to empower the local LEAs (local education authority) to do more and have more authority to run the school and even the school calendars with less direction from Raleigh,” he said.
The next question Edds read was: “There is pending legislation for counties to take over ownership and maintenance of school facilities. What is your view on this? Why would you or not want to do this?”
“The problem they’re having with some counties is — probably more than some counties, a lot of counties — the school system gets these buildings at the end of the debt and then they use them, they use them right, but when it comes time to move on and when that building is available, and if the county needs it, the county can’t get it unless they get in line with everybody else to purchase it.” Ford said. “Then the school system tries to sell it to someone else. It’s been a mess.”
Ford continued by saying the issue arose in Wake County, but could happen elsewhere.
“The taxpayers pay for the school buildings and the commissioners are the only ones in every county that could borrow money for the school buildings, so logically they should own them and control them,” he said.
Once a school pays the remaining debt balance on a school building, the deed is then turned over from the county to the school, he said.
“Most of the time, let’s be honest, the schools do the right things, but not always,” he said. “It’s become a problem.”
In other questions, unemployment and economic development often overlapped.
“What can Rowan County do to improve our unemployment and income picture?” Edds read.
“If we open up I-85 to have that good thoroughfare of traffic coming through. I’m a big believer in the airport as far as drawing corporations and companies,” Brock said.
But the biggest deterrent of jobs, he said, is the state’s regulations that are more problematic for companies wanting to come to North Carolina than other states.
“That more than anything causes problems in companies,” he said.
Brock said he’s seen that firsthand in Davie County with companies wanting to leave because projects can be completed quicker in states with less red tape.
Brock targeted the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources as a big obstacle in past years.
“That’s a problem we’re changing right now,” he said.
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.