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School board faces mediation and its own budget talks

SALISBURY — The school board will hold a joint meeting with county commissioners Monday to continue budget mediation.
If there isn’t time to discuss other matters, the school board also plans to meet Tuesday on its own.
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners and the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education will resume their recessed meeting at 5 p.m. Monday. It will take place on the second floor of the J. Newton Cohen Sr. Rowan County Administration Building, 131 W. Innes St. in Salisbury.
State statute lays out a mediation process for school boards and county governments to resolve funding disputes outside of court. In Rowan County, that process began July 1 and continued July 8 and July 29.
In addition to the mediation, the school board plans to discuss the 2013-14 budget and a lease agreement with the city of Salisbury for the future central administrative office. Then the board will meet in closed session to consider personnel action.
The school board also has called a meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday to talk about the same items. It will be held at the administrative office building at 110 S. Long Street in East Spencer.
Board Chairman Richard Miller said that meeting might not be needed, but the school board is required by law to give notice of at least 48 hours for called meetings.
“We’re not sure how long mediation will take on Monday,” Miller said. “If that’s short, we won’t have to go to Tuesday’s meeting. If the mediation lasts several hours, then we will.”
The mediation session could be short Monday if the two boards finally come to an agreement.
A brief meeting could also signal the opposite result. If they reach an impasse, the mediation will be called off, and the school board will be left to decide whether it wants to file a lawsuit against the county over its funding.
The process seemed to move forward July 30, when county commissioners voted in open session to reinstate $225,000 cut from the school system’s budget. The decrease corresponded with an expected drop in enrollment, leaving per pupil funding the same.
But that doesn’t come close to the $4.7 million current expense increase and $3.9 million capital outlay increase requested by the Board of Education.
Both chairmen have declined to talk about details of the negotiation or what they’d be willing to accept.
Jim Sides, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said when mediation first began that he would not vote for a funding increase to the schools this year.
Last week, County Commissioner Jon Barber sent an email to a Post reporter with his own ideas. In the current budget, $375,000 is designated for classroom supplies, but Barber said he would be willing to allow the schools to use it as they best see fit.
Barber also said he would agree to the use of education lottery proceeds toward an energy savings program proposed by the school system. Finally, he suggested the development of a short-term and long-term capital improvement plan.
“A compromise for the sake of our children’s education is far less expensive than ongoing mediation or litigation,” Barber wrote.
So far, most of the negotiations have taken place in closed session, with the boards meeting separately to make offers and counter-offers. Any final agreement must be publicly approved by a majority of each board.

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