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My Turn: Timing isn't right for new RSSS office

By Mike Caskey
This is not the right time for the Rowan Salisbury School System to obligate itself to build a new central office. It is the right time, however, for the school board and the county commissioners to work together to create a plan for a future.
We are in a time of financial uncertainty not seen in modern times. We have had funding cuts from the state and the county this last budget cycle and will be losing around $4,000,000 more in federal jobs money for the upcoming 2012-2013 school year. The unemployment rate in Rowan County was 11.8 percent in July and has been above 9 percent since December 2008. The August jobs numbers showed that we had ZERO net job growth nationally. Committing at least $7,000,000 of Rowan taxpayers’ money to this project may create some service jobs for the downtown Salisbury area in the long run, but that is not and should not be the purpose of this project.
We teach our children the concept of needs and wants, and we can divide this issue into needs and wants. We do need to replace the Long Street office, and I have not talked to anyone who has knowledge of the Long Street property who would disagree. It would not be a prudent use of taxpayers’ money to continue to pour resources into this building. A new central office, though desirable, should not be our priority at this time. Having a new building would possibly help morale and definitely look nicer and create a better image for the school system and the county, but the cost has to be weighed against what savings we could realize from having all of our administration offices under the same roof and savings on rental expenses.
Long Street has several structural issues and has nearly met its electric and technology limits. I believe at this point we should work with commissioners to find a property to move the Long Street operation into and then create a long-term plan to consider the consolidation of the rest of the administration offices. A major concern is the data center needs of the system, and this will have to be tackled sooner than later. If we could agree on a property already owned by the county or the school system that would work for a future central office site, then we could possibly build the data center on that site now and build the main campus at a later time. As far as not having a conference area to hold school board meetings, we can rotate among the high school auditoriums; this will also have the added value of making our board meetings more accessible to the public in the various parts of the county.
Along with the need to replace the Long Street location, we need to start to plan the replacement of Woodleaf and Cleveland elementary schools along with Knox Middle School. Starting in 2016 we will have paid off the 1993 school bonds and will have close to $2,000,000 available, which by state statute can only be used for capital needs. It is possible this funding source could be used as part of a new school bond for 2017.
The key is to get a long-term plan together with the commissioners and see it through. The central office issue has been kicked down the road for decades by school boards and commissions alike, and we keep trying to fix the problem in one giant step. It would be prudent to take smaller steps that will get us out of the Long Street property and that will put us in a plan to take care of the consolidation issue once and for all without exposing the taxpayers to a large financial obligation in these uncertain times.
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