New leaders and dynamics

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 20, 2012

New Chairman Richard Miller made an important point at Monday’s meeting of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education. He put the ongoing debate over the school system’s central office into fiscal perspective by pointing out that the county has more than enough money on hand to build an $8 million central office without having to borrow a cent.
No one has formally proposed that the county dip into its reserves in such fashion. But it’s worth noting that amid all the angst about the cost of this proposed building — between $6 million and $8 million — the county’s most recent audit reported a $28.3 million available fund balance at the end of June. That equates to 22.2 percent of general fund expenditures and is above the 21 percent minimum that is the county’s informal policy.
Building a central office will not draw down the county’s fund balance or general fund, however, as the project is proposed at the moment. The school system plans to pay for the building out of sales tax revenues. It just needs the county to authorize the loan.
But the county has had reservations. First, the project was too big. Here’s an excerpt from a Post story:
Rowan County Commissioner Jim Sides has criticized the size of the proposed downtown building.
“I don’t understand why the schools need 387 square feet per person to fit 160, and 40 of those people are not even in the office most of time — they’re just there sporadically,” he said during the Jan. 3 Board of Commissioners meeting. “I don’t think you need a 62,000-square-foot building.”
Sides said the Rowan County Department of Social Services building was originally proposed to be between 65,000 and 70,000 square feet for $11 million, but the county pared it down to 45,000 square feet for $6 million.
Sides has had a change of heart. He still opposes the project, but now he says the revamped plan is too small. So, in an interesting twist, the school board is taking a cue from Sides and going back to the bigger plan, and the city has agreed to support the effort any way it can.
This debate got old a long time ago, but in their new roles Miller and Sides bring different dynamics to it. After being an involved but low-key school board member for two years, Miller now has an opportunity to take charge. No more Mr. Quiet Guy. Sides, in contrast, finds himself in a leadership position after years of speaking his mind often and bluntly. Is it possible for these two elected officials to work together — or are they automatic foes? Let’s see what happens if they give peace a chance.