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Democrats speak out on schools, incentives, annexation

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
Democratic candidates for the Rowan County Board of Commissioners voiced support for the Rowan-Salisbury School System and giving incentives to attract business and opposition to forced annexation during a forum.
The five candidates ó Raymond Coltrain, Terry Julian, Laura Lyerly, Michael C. Phillips and Ralph Walton ó responded to questions at a forum Tuesday evening at the Crystal-Peeler Lounge at Catawba College.
Spectators, family members, friends and supporters filled the 100 seats, leaving some standing.
Julian, 61, of Faith, a retired county employee who called himself a “Blue Dog Democrat,” said county taxes will have to be increased. He called Dr. Judy Grissom, superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools, a godsend, saying she deserves the support of the commissioners.
He went on to pledge that, if elected, he will ask at each commissioners meeting, “Are we supporting education in the county?”
Other candidates also praised Grissom and pledged support for the schools, but differed over the question of how to cut the dropout rate.
Lyerly, 29, of Salisbury, said dropouts are a huge issue that affects the entire community. She said that taxes may have to be increased to support education.
She promised to work to build bridges between the county and its nine municipalities.
Candidates, including Michael Phillips, 31, a Salisbury attorney, said dropouts result from a lack of creativity in the classroom. Phillips said he favors better pay for teachers and more programs to keep students in school.
Ralph Walton, 65, a retired educator from Granite Quarry, had a different view. Walton said some kids will drop out regardless. “Some kids don’t value education,” said Walton, suggesting people shouldn’t complain about the dropout rate if they don’t have an answer to solve the problem.
Candidates were unanimous in opposition to involuntary annexation, but said they don’t support the county’s decision to hire an attorney to fight the planned Salisbury annexation.
A question about preserving open space drew a variety of responses.
Coltrain, 59, of Salisbury, the retired superintendent of the Piedmont Research Station, said the county is moving in the right direction with a land-use plan. Coltrain cautioned that the county can’t carry the preservation ball by itself. He said an effort is needed nationwide to ensure the country has the farmland to grow its food and avoid being dependent on other nations.
Phillips said he chose to live in Rowan County, rather than Mecklenburg, stressing the need to “fight every day to preserve what is here.”
A Marine who served in Desert Storm and Desert Shield, Phillips promised to bring a fresh perspective to county government.
Voters will select two nominees in the May 6 primary.
The forum was sponsored by Catawba College, the Rowan Chamber of Commerce and the Salisbury Post.

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