Holding schools hostage

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 21, 2014

With the recent primary results, Rowan County citizens should hold onto their seats as a lame duck county commission led by an unelected Chairman Jim Sides decides how to act for the next six months until the new majority is seated in December.
Will the outgoing majority be humble and acknowledge the voter mandate that their actions have not been accepted by our citizens, or will the outgoing majority ramp it up and cling to power?
Only their actions will tell. Already there are signs that cause me concern.

First, the recent One-to-One technology plan approved by Rowan-Salisbury Schools has had a difficult time getting on the County Commission agenda. Even though the program requires no new money and will not impact the county budget, it is a lease agreement that requires approval of the County Commission. Will the outgoing majority make excuses, hold it up and deny our children and teachers the technology they need to be successful? For many of our children, our schools and teachers are their last hope — a safety net — for a bright future.
Second, there is discussion at our level about finding a technicality, an excuse, to question the settlement agreement with the school system. The technicality is the fact that the members of the Joint Planning Committee from both boards haven’t met yet. Questioning the settlement agreement out of spite for the election loss is the type of leadership our voters said no to.
The technicality, the excuse, would be a smokescreen for the real intentions. In a recent email to commissioners, Vice Chairman Craig Pierce stated, “I don’t see why we need to put off the first meeting for another month. I was under the impression that this (Joint Planning Committee) was key to the mediation agreement that the two boards worked in concert to move these construction projects forward. It appears that this has just become another stall tactic (the Board of Education) designed to put off the commissioners from finding out current and important information. So much for cooperation.”
And so much for the nine months of mediation at a cost of approximately $400,000 in legal fees to our taxpayers.

The outgoing majority spent over $5 million unbudgeted from our savings account on pet projects in the last two years. Now the outgoing majority is going to claim they can’t borrow money to build schools unless they borrow money for the Salisbury Mall. This is a poor argument and even a poorer excuse. Voters will see right through holding schools hostage over the mall purchase. Our voters did not support the outgoing majority backdooring the mall purchase by using cash up front so the public didn’t have a voice on the purchase, and our voters won’t support holding schools hostage out of spite for the election.
What concerns me the most is Vice Chairman Pierce has told a few individuals that he is running for the School Board.
It’s time we let go of our egos and listen to our voters. They have spoken.

Jon Barber is a member of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.

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