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Furniture in new central office dominates school board meeting

By David Purtell

david.purtell@salisburypost.com

The Rowan-Salisbury School Board spent two hours of its meeting Tuesday discussing funding for furniture for the new central office building.

The furniture funding was included in the budget for the school system’s capital projects for the new fiscal year, which starts today. The budget needed to be approved so ongoing projects could continue after the current year ends and the new one starts — a complete budget for the school system can’t be approved until the state Legislature approves its budget.

The capital-projects budget included $500,000 for furniture for the central office, currently under construction on North Main Street. Several board members were confused about why the funding was needed and where the money was coming from — board Chairman Josh Wagner was not at the meeting.

After a long and, at times, confusing discussion, the board approved the budget without the funding for furniture. The board will take up the funding during a work session in August.

During discussion about the funding, board Vice Chairman Dean Hunter said he thought the new central office was already fully funded. In November, the board approved construction bids and other costs for the central office. The price tag then was $7,984,503, including $30,000 for furniture and equipment.

As of now, the school system has a total of $8,025,000 in funding for the central office. The board spent time Tuesday trying to figure out how much money they currently had for the office. Things were complicated by the fact that Anthony Vann, assistant superintendent of operations, was out of town Tuesday at a conference.

The school system’s chief financial officer, Tara Trexler, tried to explain to the board what the funding was for and where it came from — apparently it has been in the school system’s coffers for years, but wasn’t used because a new central office kept being delayed.

Trexler said it is unknown if all of the $500,000 would be needed.

Superintendent Lynn Moody said that the Robertson Family Foundation had initially provided funding for the central office’s furniture but later removed its restriction that the funding only be used for furniture in order to help get the building built.

A motion was made to approve the budget with the furniture funding, but it failed in a 3-3 tie. Another motion to approve the budget without the furniture funds also failed in a 3-3 tie.

Moody suggested they call Vann to get some clarification on the issue. After listening to Trexler talk to Vann on the phone during a break in the meeting, Hunter said he still had concerns and questions about the funding and wanted to wait until August so the whole board, and Vann, could discuss the issue together. He said Vann did say it was OK if the funding was left out of the budget for the time being.

He also said Vann said the total cost of the central office could end up being over $8.5 million.

Because the board had already failed to pass a motion that removed the funds from the budget, they had to come up with another, different, motion. More talks ensued, during which board member Travis Allen said he was upset by what he saw as unknown expenses relating to the central office coming out of nowhere.

Eventually, the board voted 6-0 to approve a capital-projects budget without the furniture funding and without $20,000 for maintenance program equipment. Trexler said the maintenance program funding could be added back in through a budget amendment in August — the board is not scheduled to meet in July. The board can also put the furniture funding back in place through a budget amendment.

When all was said and done, the meeting took four-and-a-half hours.

In other business Tuesday:

• Board members said they don’t think losing dozens of teacher assistants in order to reduce class sizes by one or two students is a good bargain. The state Senate’s proposed budget calls for the elimination of teacher-assistants positions to provide funding for more teachers and reduce class size. But Trexler told the board classes in Rowan would see a minimal decrease in size and that 60 or more teacher assistants would have to be cut — 18 new teachers could be added, she said.

• The board passed a continuing budget resolution to allow funding for district operations to continue until a 2015-2016 budget is passed.

Contact reporter David Purtell at 704-797-4264.

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