Boards at odds over school property bill

  • Posted: Sunday, May 19, 2013 12:33 a.m.

SALISBURY — At least two commissioners said they would support taking control of school property if a state bill designating such passes the N.C. General Assembly.

Vice Chairman Craig Pierce and commissioner Mike Caskey said Friday the measure would help county and school board relations by removing the primary budget conflict.

“The reason I’m in favor of it is there’s this time of year when there’s so much tension between the two bodies,” Caskey said. “I think they need to make it so one group controls it. It’ll be a lot smoother between the two groups if the commission decides to do it.”

But some school officials see the legislation as a power grab.

School Board Chairman Richard Miller and Assistant Superintendent Gene Miller, along with several board members, vocalized their distaste for the proposed legislation this week. The measure was approved by the Senate on Wednesday and will move to the N.C. House of Representatives.

“We have a state legislature that’s doing quite a bit to dismantle public education, which is a core tenet and core support of who we are as a democracy,” Richard Miller said Thursday.

He urged city officials to push ahead and “get a shovel in the ground” for the Rowan-Salisbury Schools central office project on South Main Street.

Attorneys told city and school officials at a meeting Friday that the pending legislation would not affect the project.

Caskey, a former school board member, said either schools or commissioners should be in control of buildings. He said if a bill were proposed to give schools the ability to raise tax revenue, he would support that instead.

“I wouldn’t want additional tax increases, (but) if they had the ability to raise their own and they didn’t have to go through the commission at all — overall I think that would be the best thing to do.”

Chairman Jim Sides did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Still, some school officials, like Miller, said the bill would unfairly give commissioners control while leaving maintenance of buildings up to schools.

County commissioners don’t understand that building design and uses often dovetail with specific academic programs and needs, Miller said.

“To me, it’s an insult to say we just want to own the buildings to improve our bond issue, but you have to take care of them,” Miller said.

Schools superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom and Miller sent a mass email to parents Saturday urging them to contact lawmakers and express concerns.

“If you oppose this bill and believe that your locally elected Board of Education should continue making these decisions as they were elected to do, please contact our local House Representatives and ask them to remove Rowan from this bill,” the email read. “It worked for our neighbors in Iredell, Mooresville, and Kannapolis — let’s see the same support for Rowan!!”

But Pierce argued Thursday that the bill would give counties the option for control because they fund capital improvement.

“I think that’s the whole idea behind this bill. I don’t think it’s about taking away anything from the county school systems around the state. The key to this is to cut the cost so that tax payers can get the most for their money,” Pierce said.

“I don’t think we need to get into the business of doing school maintenance because we don’t actually fund that. That comes from the half-cent sales tax that the county has.”

Pierce also said the bill would allow the county to more easily plan for the future.

“Since we do pay for the capital improvements, it would be easier for us to do the long-range planning,” he said.

Not all county leaders share his views.

Commissioner Jon Barber called the proposed legislation a “nightmare” for commissioners if it passes.

“We need less government controlling people’s lives and we need more government helping people’s lives,” Barber said in a phone interview Thursday.

“If this bill passes, Rowan County commissioners are going to be spending more time focusing on building issues than we are creating jobs and putting people back to work,” he said.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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