County, schools close to agreement on budget

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 6, 2013

SALISBURY — After six hours of mediation Monday, attorneys for the county and school boards said they are close to reaching an agreement on the budget.
The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education and Rowan County Commissioners spent most of the night talking separately in closed session to negotiate offers and counter-offers. Around 10 p.m., they told county and school staff that they were working on a resolution.
But that agreement couldn’t be finalized before their meeting recessed just after 11 p.m. Monday. The date and time of the next meeting are still to be determined.
“My board still has hopes of resolving this matter, and it appears that we are very close to resolving the matter,” said Neil Yarborough, special counsel for Rowan County. “But because of the hour, they would prefer that our attorneys get together, see if we can work out an agreement, have it in writing and present it to the boards at another time.”
Yarborough said this would give everyone a chance to rest, because they were all getting tired.
“The school board is willing to sit here all night long to get this very important matter resolved,” said Richard Schwartz, one of two attorneys the Board of Education hired for the mediation process.
But county commissioners weren’t willing to do the same.
“We were told we had an agreement, but there’s still the actual document to be written and signed, and we haven’t been able to get to that point yet,” Commissioner Craig Pierce said after the meeting. “We didn’t want to sit around for another 30 minutes to an hour for paperwork to be written.”
Mediator Willis Whichard declared the mediation to be recessed until a future date to be determined.
Immediately afterward, as commissioners began to leave, the school board voted to re-enter closed session to consult with its attorney. It’s not clear how long that board continued to meet.
The Board of Commissioners and Board of Education began the mediation process July 1, and prior to Monday’s meeting, they had held joint meetings on July 8 and July 29.
On July 29, county commissioners voted in open session to reinstate $225,000 that was cut from the school system’s budget because of a drop in enrollment.
The total increase in current expense funds originally requested by the school board is $4.7 million. It is asking for another $3.9 million in capital outlay funds.

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.