Lawmakers to see what school materials county has pulled from recycling

SALISBURY — County leaders plan to show old classroom materials that were removed from a recycling center to delegates during a meeting this week.

But the reason behind it has stirred up the rumor mill.

One county employee said commissioners were planning to “ambush” the local school board by highlighting the amount of supplies being recycled at the county’s recycling center.

Vice Chairman Craig Pierce said that’s not case.

Pierce said the county removed text books — some of which he said had only been used a year — and other documents from trucks that were delivering the school system’s recycling.

“I’m not trying to blame our local school board for this. This is not directed toward them,” he said. “They get the books that the state sends them.”

Pierce said the academic curriculum coming out of Raleigh forces schools to switch textbooks frequently — oftentimes sending those textbooks to be recycled.

“Is there not a useful avenue that we can go down for these discarded books?” Pierce asked. “Can we not offer them to the library for people that homeschool?”

At least one county employee was instructed to remove the school system’s recycling from one of the recycling centers last week, sources say. Commissioners are expected to display the remnants to the county’s four state delegates during a meeting on Thursday morning.

Rep. Harry Warren (R-Salisbury) said he was contacted last week by Chairman Jim Sides but wasn’t told what the meeting would regard.

“Last week, I received an email from Commissioner Sides requesting a time when we could meet. It was part of an email that went out to the entire delegation,” Warren said.

Sides, who has not responded to phone calls seeking comment in recent months, did not return a call seeking comment.

Pierce said Kathryn Jolly, environmental services director, informed Sides about the recycling after she was notified. Sides and Pierce visited the recycling center and asked Jolly to have the materials “separated and sorted.”

Commissioner Jon Barber said he was not included in the discussion about the tossed school materials nor was he aware of the scheduled meeting until a county employee contacted him Saturday afternoon.

“Back toward the end of last year, Rowan County was seen by the John Locke Foundation as one of the most open, transparent county government in the state,” Barber said. “In order to live up to that recognition, we should always foster an environment of transparency — which means keeping everyone informed.”

Following the scheduled meeting on Thursday, the school system is slated to give Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom a retirement reception.

Barber questioned the timing of the meeting just days after the school board tapped a new head of the system.

“Is this the way we want to welcome our new superintendent to Rowan County?” Barber asked.

The move by the county could be viewed by the public as a potential invasion of privacy for residents who utilize the county’s recycling centers, Barber said.

“It could be viewed as overextending the control of an elected body,” he said, “and that, obviously, it would make a county employee very apprehensive if they were instructed to perform these type of tasks, that if they did not complete, that it would make them concerned about retaining their employment with county government.”

But Pierce said the materials consist of former classroom textbooks, End-of-Grade tests and copier paper — nothing, he said, that would compromise personal information.

“Whose privacy? This is school trash. This is school recycled product,” Pierce said. “I don’t really understand that correlation at all.”

School Board Chairman Richard Miller said he was unaware of the pulled recycling or the called meeting.

“My question would be, are all county agencies’ trash being gone through and if so, that’s one thing,” he said. “If the schools are being singled out, that gives me pause.”

Miller said he was unaware of the kinds of materials the county had seized, but said the state often tells local school systems to recycle their textbooks when they reach a certain age or are no longer applicable as textbooks change over to digital platforms.

“I’m amazed that the county commission would have their staff going through the garbage,” he said.

The commission, Barber said, is focused on something that should be a school board task.

“It seems like it’s every week or every other week that something comes out that really becomes a distraction,” Barber said. “Our most important priority right now should be getting people back to work and educating our children.”

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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