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School, county leaders meeting again today to work on relationship

EAST SPENCER — It’s been less than a week since tensions flared between the leaders of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education and the Rowan County Board of Commissioners about whether the press could be present during a meeting between the chair and vice-chair of both bodies.
That meeting was cut short after less than 15 minutes, but they’ll try again at 10 a.m. today.
This time, only school board Chairman Dr. Richard Miller, Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom, county Chairman Jim Sides and Rowan County Manager Gary Page are invited.
“This is a meeting between the two of us, it’s not a committee kind of thing, and we will not have the media there,” Miller said Monday during a work session of the school board after board member Chuck Hughes asked how this meeting would be different from the one held Thursday.
Miller asked fellow board members to brainstorm what the relationship between the two boards should look like, jotting down their answers on a large notepad set up on an easel at the front of the board room.
He started the exercise by writing the word respect.
Board member Susan Cox asked him to add mutual to the front of it.
“I think both board needs to be on a level playing field in the give and take, so mutual respect,” she said.
Vice-Chairwoman Kay Wright Norman chimed in the board should have respect for differences.
Hughes said communication is key.
Board member L.A. Overcash said open-mindedness is important and board member Jean Kennedy mentioned the ability to reach a consensus.
Cox added listening and considering all input from board members.
Board member Josh Wagner said he thinks a clear understanding of what each board is responsible for is important as they move forward to form a relationship.
Overcash said he’d like some recognition of the knowledge that the boards are equal.
But there was some disagreement about whether the boards are in fact equal.
“I don’t understand what you mean by equality,” Hughes said.
Overcash said he considers the boards equal because they are both elected by the same people to serve the entire population of Rowan County.
Wagner said he understands Overcash’s view, but pointed out the responsibilities and duties of the two boards are not equal.
Overcash responded by saying “One board is not more important and doesn’t have more power than another board.”
Much of the conversation about the relationship of the two boards revolved around the concept of respect.
“It’s an easy word to throw around,” Miller said. “When I go into tomorrow’s meeting I want to know what this board means by the word respect.”
Miller said one of the main issues with Thursday’s meeting was respect, but Hughes disagreed.
“I assume the county commission respected you and your presence and I know well that you respected theirs,” Hughes said. “Was there disrespect shown?”
Cox responded, asking Hughes if he had seen the video footage of the meeting.
“If you did, you would see,” she said.
Hughes said he has seen the video.
“I saw shortcomings on both ends of it,” he said.
Wagner said he’s seen the attitudes of both bodies change based on particular issues.
“I think in the case of our relationship, sometimes it’s easier to give respect when we all agree,” he said. “When we have to pick sides all of a sudden respect goes out the window.
“We need to still be able to communicate and interact without getting hostile or angry toward each other … I feel it’s easy to point the finger and say that’s disrespectful.”
Norman agrees respect should be given to both sides.
“When we sit down at a table as adults representing a board, the first thing we need to do is behave ourselves in a professional manner,” she said. “It is important we have a vision of what is respect … the whole issue of laying blame is something I despise.
The board voted in agreement on a six-part definition of respect for Miller to take to today’s meeting. It includes valuing differences, considering all input, understanding each boards responsibilities, acknowledging each board’s legitimacy, listening and open-mindedness and the ability to reach a consensus.
Miller confirmed that today’s meeting only to discuss the relationship between the boards.
“Then we can do business,” he said. “But without some cooperation it’s going to be impossible to do business.”.
At the end of the meeting, Miller gave the board a copy of a legal opinion about the responsibilities of boards of education and board of county commissioners in regards to school facilities.
“It’s pretty much re-emphasizing everything we’ve said, the school board picks the site and facility and the county commissioners float the money,” Miller said in summary of the four-page document.
Wagner asked Miller to share the document with Sides today.
“I think right now one of the key points of contention is what are the responsibilities of the commission are, the school board believes one thing, the commission interprets another … ,” he said. “We need to come to some agreement as to what each boards responsibilities are.”

Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
Twitter: twitter.com/posteducation
Facebook: facebook.com/Sarah.SalisburyPost

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