Commissioners, school board to continue talks after judge’s decision

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education and county commissioners plan to meet next week to continue mediation talks after Judge Willis Whichard announced mid-week last week that he would not grant an impasse between the two groups at this time.
Whichard, a lawyer who has served both as an appellate judge and as a state legislator, serves as the mediator between the two groups, which can’t agree about how to fund the school system’s top capital needs projects.
“I think he’s trying to show that the mediation process can work,” Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education Chairman Dr. Richard Miller said of Whichard.
“He takes the emotions and feelings out of it and we all need that,” he added.
The school board asked Whichard to declare an impasse between the board and county commissioners nearly a month ago, after the last joint meeting between the two groups.
At that meeting, commissioners approved a proposal that would create a legally binding memorandum of agreement providing $6.5 million immediately for a central office, then $22.5 million more in Jan. 2015.
The agreement would have also come with the acknowledgement that an additional $11.5 million is necessary to complete the school system’s top three capital needs: a central office, repairs to Knox Middle School and a consolidated elementary in western Rowan County, but did not outline how or when those funds would be provided.
“We believe we have exhausted our opportunities for dialogue and reaching agreement,” Miller said at that time.
But Whichard chose not to declare an impasse, citing that the groups had made progress and were closer to resolution when they started.
So, Miller sent a letter to county commissioners at their meeting Monday requesting another joint to try to resolve their differences.
Miller originally proposed Mon., Feb. 24 at 2 p.m., but Commissioner John Barber said he would be unable to attend a meeting at that time. The two boards are working to find a time that works for the most people, probably Monday, Wednesday or Thursday of next week. A location has not been set.
Miller said he hopes the two boards can “find some resolution” during next week’s meeting.
Miller said the school board hasn’t met since Whichard made his decision, so they haven’t publicly reacted to the news or decided how they will approach the meeting with commissioners yet. Miller expects they will share their reactions during their normally scheduled meeting Monday, as well as decide whether or not to have their attorney, Richard Schwartz, or anyone else at the joint meeting.
Miller pointed out that Whichard hasn’t made the decision to never declare an impasse, but he did say he thought the two boards should try to resolve things again.