First RSS board meeting in central office full of debate

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 16, 2016

By Rebecca Rider

A majority of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education voted Monday not to consider a town of Cleveland offer for a parcel of land for the planned consolidated western elementary school.

The board is under contract, but has not closed, on property on the corner of Highway 801 and Godbey Road.

At the board’s first meeting in the Wallace Educational Forum, Steve Stroud, mayor pro tem of Cleveland, said the town would offer the property at little or no cost to the school system. Placing the school in Cleveland means the facility would have access to existing water and sewer lines – an approximately $1.1 million expense at the current site. The Cleveland site would also be closer to fire and EMS stations.

The board was split between considering the property and, in the long range, saving money or keeping their word. If the board chose the Cleveland property, they’d save about $325,000 from not having to purchase the property or demolish existing buildings. Board member Chuck Hughes said the board had promised a neutral site to Woodleaf. To change now would break that.

“I think it would be an injustice,” Hughes said.

Board member Jean Kennedy agreed.

“It should be a neutral site,” she said.

Other board members raised concerns about transportation times should the facility be in Cleveland, and said it may be unfair to Woodleaf. Woodleaf is not a municipality, and cannot offer water and sewer services.

Dean Hunter and Josh Wagner, however, argued that the board should consider the proposal for a month, and discuss it at their April meeting. Wagner said later that the Godbey Road property was the board’s only real, viable option at the time. He learned about the Cleveland property recently, and felt it should be discussed.

“What information in thirty days are we going to have that we don’t have now?” Travis Allen asked.

Wagner said the current property was still being evaluated, and a month delay would allow the board to make the best financial choice and to look at properties adjacent to the Cleveland property. If the board switched properties now, they will lose about $10,000 in earnest money.

Allen agreed to wait 30 days. But a motion for the delay failed in a 4-3 vote. Allen, Wagner and Hunter voted for the delay, Kennedy, Cox, Hughes and Dr. Richard Miller voted against.

Wagner said the Cleveland property is now a dead issue.

The board also agreed to “grandfather in” the Granite Quarry Civitans Club under their community use of facilities. The Civitans requested use of East Rowan High School’s kitchen area and cafeteria during its annual Fiddler’s Convention. Under currently policy, community use of kitchen facilities is forbidden.

Public comment was full of Civitans supporters, reminding the board of all the positive contributions the group has made to schools in the past.

The Fiddler’s Convention, and the barbecue chicken dinner that follows, has been hosted at East Rowan for years, the Civitans said, and there was never a problem before. But food service officials said that opening the kitchen area to the public could increase the risk of a food hazard.

“Life is full of risk,” Hughes said.

For nearly an hour the board debated whether to grandfather in the Civitans under the current policy, or to allow the group use of the facility on this one occasion and amend the policy later. Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody reminded the board that opening the kitchen up to the public in general is very different from allowing use by an organization that has a longstanding relationship with the system.

In the end, the Civitans were grandfathered in under the new policy and are permitted use of East Rowan’s kitchens and dining area during the convention.

The board looked at capital outlay and budget requests that total more than $25 million — $22 million in capital outlay projects and more than $3 million in budget requests. Discussion of the requests centered on the need to prioritize the lists, and focus on school system needs.

The list of budget requests for the next fiscal year was already narrowed from 20 items to 13, and would include extending assistant principal and counselor positions to 11 months, adding a 2 percent salary supplement, outsourcing substitute teachers to an employment agency and address training for school resource officers. The list also includes continuing positions for a teacher recruiter and co-principals at Koontz Elementary.

Capital outlay requests included roofing and flooring needs, as well as requests for furniture. But when the board recommended prioritizing the list, there was some argument.

“You don’t want to prioritize or cut down this list too far,” Moody said.

However, Wagner said it was important to put the highest needs first before taking it to the county commissioners.

“We understand obviously that we’re not getting $22 million,” he said.

The list also includes requests that aren’t immediate needs, but seemed more like “wants.”

“We as a board get a list of everything from lollipops to lockers . . . there are obviously things on here that can certainly wait,” he said.

The board agreed to discuss the issue further at their April 7 planning meeting.

In other business:

  • The board looked at using a contract service for substitutes. This would save man-hours for the system, and would allow substitutes to work more than 30 hours a week and allow the opportunity for benefits.
  • A school efficiency study showed by shuffling around which accounts paid system salaries, the district could earn potential savings of up to $1 million – dependent on waivers from the Department of Public Instruction. Fifteen percent of the savings would be paid to School Efficiency Consultants for conducting the study, $390,000 would be set aside for the Title I fund and the remainder could be used during the current budget year.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.