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Guest column: Stanback pulled merger out of fire

By Carl Eagle
Special to the Post
I read with great interest and appreciation Mark Wineka’s recent article concerning the Community Care Clinic Roast of Bill Stanback. Mr. Stanback is richly deserving of all the accolades he has received throughout his lifetime. Salisbury, Rowan County and North Carolina are all better places to live because of the efforts of this outstanding citizen.
Kent Bernhardt commented during the roast, “so many people know him, love him and know all that he has done for the community.” While this is certainly a true statement, I am not sure that anyone really knows all that he has done for the community. How many of his contributions have been made quietly and behind the scene without the general public’s knowledge? That is probably an impossible question to answer, but I am very aware of one such effort I would like to share.
In 1985 the Salisbury Board of Education and the Rowan County Board of Education formed the Steering Committee for Merger Study and charged it with the task of studying the feasibility of merging the two school systems. Bill Stanback and I were both members of this committee, and at the first meeting Bill was named chairman of the group. I nominated him for that post, remarking that the job was going to be a major headache and that he had more success at curing headaches than any of the rest of us.
The committee began meeting in September of 1985 and ran into major problems right from the start, principally because of a turf protection attitude by most committee members and interested citizens. The county board was already facing difficult decisions about the ever present enrollment shortage at North Rowan High School. Since Salisbury High School faced the same problem, many committee members thought that any merger plan should include provisions to combine the two high schools. A motion was offered at a meeting on Jan. 29, 1986, to include this action in the merger plan. Dick Messinger moved that this motion be tabled until after the Program and Curriculum Committee report to be heard on Feb. 5. This motion carried by a five to four vote.
The Program and Curriculum Committee delivered its report as scheduled and the next meeting of the Steering Committee was scheduled for Feb. 19. It was widely anticipated that this meeting would be the end of the merger effort and that the committee would vote to disband after this meeting, hopelessly torn over the four high schools versus five high schools issue. Most of us were tired of unproductive meetings and looked forward to putting the whole merger issue to rest.
On the evening of Feb. 18, 1986, Bill Stanback called me. He told me that he was firmly convinced that school merger in the not too distant future was a very needed outcome. He was just as convinced that a divisive vote at the next evening’s meeting would sour both boards on merger efforts and that it might be 10 to 20 years before the idea of merger talks could be revived. He asked if I would be willing to forestall such a vote by introducing a motion that basically said the systems would study merger under a status quo arrangement until such time as a new school board and superintendent for the merged systems were in place. I was not enthusiastic about the idea but agreed to try to offer a motion I felt I could live with.
I did offer such an amendment and it passed by a vote of 5-2, with four abstentions. The committee then adjourned, never to meet again. As a result of the motion, however, two persons were named by each school board to a committee to conduct a study of the possibility of merging while maintaining the status quo. From the work of this small committee sprang the proposals which eventually led to the merger of the systems on July 1, 1989.
Until now I have not shared this information with anyone. As far as I know, Bill Stanback and I were the only ones who knew about that phone call. I am absolutely convinced that Bill was right and, if a divisive vote had been taken on Feb. 19, 1986, school merger might to this day be a sore spot in city and county relations. We need more statesmen like Mr. Stanback!
– – –
Carl Eagle was the first chairman of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education.

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