Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 4, 2013

SALISBURY — As expected, school officials came out swinging Monday night in the face of $225,000 in proposed budget cuts to the school system.
More than 15 speakers signed up for a public hearing on next year’s proposed budget. The majority of the speakers voiced views for or against the county’s recommendation to cut schools’ funds — a decision that followed school officials’ request for nearly $5 million to maintain all current services.
Susan Herrington, principal at Woodleaf Elementary, was among the supporters for more county funding. Herrington urged commissioners to “invest”in students’ futures by restoring the proposed shortfall.
“Help us keep much needed personnel in place by funding at least at or above the current balance regardless of the number of students lost,” Herrington said.
County Manager Gary Page said Rowan-Salisbury Schools will lose more than 140 students next year. At $1,587 a student, the attendance dip equates to just more than $250,000.
But school advocates argued that many of the schools already operate on a skeleton budget and with the students being spread across the system, most schools will only lose a handful of students.
Gene Miller, assistant superintendent for school operations, said students don’t simply equal dollars.
“Just because we have fewer students does not mean we need less money to operate,” Miller said. “Having 146 less students does not mean that it costs less money to keep cool the buildings, or run less budgets or need less teachers or teachers’ assistants. — unless you assume that they all live in the same neighborhood, ride the same bus, have the same teacher and are the same age.”
But not everyone protested the cuts.
Salisbury resident and frequent Salisbury Post commenter Larry Wright said schools haven’t proven to commissioners the needs for positions like teaching assistants.
“I think the school board and the administration have certainly not sold the common citizens who do the voting, pay the taxes, on the need for all of these positions,” Wright said. “I think it’s a dereliction of duty on your part.”
Herrington quipped back, inviting those in attendance who thought the schools’ budget needed to be trimmed to volunteer at a local school.
“You need to come into Woodleaf school — I invite you now to volunteer and I invite you all to come into Woodleaf schools and every school in our county and volunteer and see what a 21st century classroom and a 21st century school,” Herrington said. “My school reflects the guilts of our society.”
Another school supporter, Alex Reynolds, just named the 2013 Rowan-Salisbury School System Teacher of the Year, asked commissioners to reconsider the budget.
“I personally believe in cutting the fat. I don’t think that doing more with less is bad. Sometimes it can be motivating. But when more of my kids say it’s better to leave and never come back than to reinvest in our county — that says something about where we are and what we value.”
Several Enochville firefighters also turned out Monday night to ask commissioners for a fire tax increase.
Crew members, including Fire Chief Clark Mackey, said the average vehicle life at the department was more than 19 years old.
Mackey said the increase is needed to purchase new vehicles or fix the existing ones and to train firefighters.
With no hydrants in the county, he said, the department’s only tanker supplies water for all fire missions. But that vehicle has developed serious rust spots, Mackey said.
“The pump is about to fall out of the bottom of the truck,” he said. “It’s got a lot of rust spots.”

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.