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Commissioners revise $40 million school agreement

Following a lengthy discussion Monday, Rowan County commissioners approved a revised mediated settlement agreement with the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education.

Commissioners met March 17 in closed session to review an agreement drafted by attorneys and based on discussions commissioners had with the school board during a Feb. 27 joint meeting.

The document detailing the agreement did not mirror what some commissioners said they discussed, and commissioners worked with their attorney to make about 12 changes to the plan school board members approved March 24.

School board members are meeting again Friday to discuss the issue, and commissioners voted instead to approve the revised document as opposed to gathering with school board members to finalize an agreement in a joint meeting.

Craig Pierce, vice-chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, said the agreement sent to commissioners by the school board “was not what we agreed upon at the last mediation.”

“If you don’t believe that, go back and look at the tape. That is one good thing about videotape,” Pierce said. “It doesn’t lie. It tells you everything that you said.”

Pierce said he would rather vote on the revised agreement and send it to the school board members versus sitting down with them again.

If school board members want to put in any information commissioners struck out, Pierce said he would like an explanation as to why those lines need to be in there.

“That day we left mediation, none of these 12 items that have been struck from this document were ever discussed,” Pierce said. “It’s kind of like, ‘Well we got (commissioners) to say yes, now let’s fill it full of everything else we want.’ That is not what we are supposed to do to take care of the taxpayers.”

Commissioners approved a version that specified $40.5 million be directed toward three projects classified as critical needs — a new central office, “resolution of security and building design and obsolescence problems at Knox Middle School” and the replacement and consolidation of Woodleaf and Cleveland elementary schools.

“We did go in and make some changes and created a clean version that our attorney prepared,” commissioners Chairman Jim Sides said.

Commissioner Chad Mitchell said he would like to hear from school board members what would be “a killer” as far as they are concerned with some of the commissioners’ red-line strikeouts in the document the school board members approved.

“It’s like watching someone run a marathon or the two miles at a track meet. They get their seven laps down in the two miles, and as they come into the last 50 meters — they fall down,” Mitchell said. “You don’t want to have wasted seven and three-quarters worth of laps and work. You want to get it across the finish line.”

There are things commissioners and school board members are going to be dead set on, Mitchell said.

“That’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that, but if we can come to an agreement like I thought we had the other day of the budget and the three projects, then I think we’re almost home free to getting this thing done.”

Commissioner Mike Caskey said the joint meeting with the school board was positive and he thought everybody was on the same page.

Caskey and Mitchell recommended meeting with the school board on Friday.

The motion failed when commissioners Pierce, Sides and Jon Barber voted it down.

“If you look at all the issues that we have back and forth between us and them — we disagree on some things and it has been going on for much longer than any of us have been up here,” Caskey said. “I think this central office is an issue that people have dug in on. We’ve got to get the central office thing behind us. This one particular issue has been a thorn in everyone’s side for 25 years. It’s time we pulled it out.”

Sides said he wouldn’t give the school district a dime one year ago because he never agreed the top priority in the system is a central office.

“I don’t agree now that the first priority is the central office. I think they have a lot of other capital needs that are much more important than a central office,” Sides said. “We are all a little weary of the process. I don’t want to see us go to court and spend another three quarters of a million dollars. We already spent $256,000 and have not bought one textbook, given one teacher a raise or hired one teacher assistant.”

Sides said he still believes the central office can be built for less than $6.5 million.

“You have all these people in Rowan County who are so concerned about education for our children, and they are willing to give $250,000 for a dome,” Sides said. “They are willing to give property and all this money, but they won’t give a dime to educate your children.”

Contact reporter Jim Holt at 704-797-4246.

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