Commissioners seeking answers

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Jessie Burchette

Salisbury Post

Concerned about the failings of the Rowan-Salisbury School System, county commissioners want to hold a joint meeting with school board members.

Commissioners reacted strongly Monday night to the news last week that the school system is in the bottom 11 in the state in meeting federal No Child Left Behind standards on Adequate Yearly Progress.

Arnold Chamberlain, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, issued the invitation and said the meeting will include an opportunity for the public to speak — a chance for the public to vent. “I’ve been vented on enough,” Chamberlain said.

Another commissioner dubbed it “open-vent forum.”

Chamberlain took the opportunity to do a bit of venting, expressing his displeasure that commissioners had to learn about the state of the school system by reading the newspaper.

Chamberlain said school officials told him they didn’t “understand protocol,” and apologized for the lapse in communication.

“The school system must make sweeping changes immediately or the state will do it,” said Commissioner Tina Hall, a retired principal from the Rowan-Salisbury system.

“Somewhere in the past five years, our school system has lost its way,” Hall said.

Hall questioned why the school system didn’t choose to be honest and open about its failings and being in warning status for the past three years.

Hall said the largest single chunk of county tax dollars, $30 million, goes to the school system. “We are entitled to acceptable testing results.”

Commissioner Jim Sides ticked off the millions of dollars the school system has not spent, but amassed in a fund balance. Sides said the fund balance at the end of the past fiscal year was $8.2 million.

“We want the best school system. Let’s spend the money to educate the kids,” Sides said. While agreeing that the federal program may be flawed, Sides said all 118 systems in the state are judged by the same standards.

Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell and Commissioner Jon Barber, both teachers in the Rowan-Salisbury system, expressed support for Dr. Judy Grissom, superintendent.

Mitchell also criticized the No Child Left Behind program, saying he would prefer for the federal government to get out of education.

Mitchell and Barber joined other commissioners in supporting Chamberlain’s call for a joint meeting with the school board.

Chamberlain went further, suggesting there may need to be quarterly sessions. He emphasized the need for public discussion and input.

Chamberlain, who had previously appointed Hall and Barber as the liaisons to the school board, expanded the appointments.

He appointed the entire board of commissioners as liaisons to the school system.

Chamberlain asked County Manager Bill Cowan to arrange a meeting with the school board as soon as possible.

Polling other commissioners on when to hold the joint meeting, Sides said it could wait a few days. “The cat’s out of the bag now … do it after the first of the year,” he said.

Chamberlain also said that it was his understanding that the school board had planned to call for a joint meeting with commissioners. “That didn’t happen for whatever reason,” Chamberlain said.

The school board met Monday morning in a special meeting to decide a principal for the new Shive Elementary School.