Big day for county, schools

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A crucial conversation takes place this morning as two boards meet to talk about school building needs, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners and the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education. Let’s hope recent talk about mutual understanding and better communication bear fruit at this joint meeting.
Commissioner Mike Caskey is unique in this group as the only individual to have served on both boards. At a recent commissioners’ meeting, he talked about the frustrations he knew school board members were feeling. They carry out a thankless job for a very low stipend, he said, and much of what goes on in the schools is mandated without any input from the board. On top of that, Caskey said, the school board cannot raise its own funds. Commissioners have the final say on loans and bond issues, and that fact is held over school board members’ heads, he said.
Yet in many ways the school board is more important than the county commission, Caskey said. What happens within the schoolhouse walls has the power to set the county on a path for future growth.
Vice Chairman Craig Pierce and Commissioner Chad Mitchell also sounded conciliatory notes at the Jan. 6 meeting. Pierce said members of the board have spent a lot of time on the phone and in person to come up with acceptable and prudent plans. The two boards have developed a better atmosphere of communication, he said, and he gave credit to schools Chairman Richard Miller and Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody for what he called a 180-degree turnaround. “We do not want this brought into a courtroom battle,” Pierce said of the two boards’ budget differences. Commissioners, he said, just want to ensure the best use of taxpayers’ dollars.
The school board is seeking $40 million to build a long-awaited central office and a new elementary school and make improvements to Knox Middle School. Which streams of revenue can be directed toward meeting these needs? The state lottery never brought the boost school leaders were promised because proceeds went to pay off bonds the county already had in the works. That arrangement didn’t start under the current leadership; could it be amended now?
Commissioners know about thankless jobs, and wrestling with budgets is on the list. Bringing this mediation to a workable conclusion would be a great achievement. A unanimous vote is unlikely, but the majority opinion that has emerged is positive and forward-looking. One way or the other, today will be a turning point for Rowan County and its schools. Please lead us away from stalemates and lawsuits — and toward unified, constructive action.