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RSS board members: No quick decision on school consolidation

By Rebecca Rider

rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education members spent some at their meeting Monday reassuring the public they won’t be voting within weeks to shut down elementary schools.

At a retreat on Thursday, the board was presented a scenario in which six elementary schools would be closed, and the attendance zones of the remaining 14 adjusted.

Cleveland and Woodleaf are already slated to be merged into a new western Rowan elementary school. A consultant’s naming of four more proposed schools – Mt. Ulla, Morgan, Faith and Enochville  – sparked an outcry on social media over the weekend.

“The intent of the board was certainly not to jump to any conclusions or jump to any votes regarding this, and I think I communicated that poorly during the last meeting,” Board Chair Josh Wagner said.

The topic is scheduled for discussion at the April 25 business meeting, but Wagner said he wanted to clarify that no decisions would be made at that time.

“There’s a lot of planning we still have to do on our part,” he said.

Instead, Wagner said, the board will begin examining each piece of the proposal in-depth and looking at how things would work logistically.

Board member Chuck Hughes also said he wanted to clarify a comment he made at the retreat where he stated, “Let’s get this done today.”

“Obviously we would not do anything right away. We have a responsibility, a legal responsibility to go out to the community to share what our thoughts are. . . . My intent was to get this started, get this under way,” he said.

Board member Travis Allen said he also wanted to clarify a statement he made at a Jan. 11 board meeting about the district having “10 schools too many.”

Allen stated in a letter that he is against closing old schools without new, consolidated buildings to replace them. Allen said that he saw 11 schools that, over a 10- or 15-year period, could be merged into brand new buildings.

“I have deep concerns with removing community schools without new building consolidation,” he said in a letter.

Wagner said consolidation is a topic the board needs “to at least discuss,” but said that the board doesn’t have the luxury of being able to hear proposals and discuss options behind closed doors before presenting it to the public.

“The community sees it as perhaps our not looking at the details and not doing our due diligence,” he said, “but we are simply kind of handcuffed at times based on how we have to have our meetings.”

The proposal and the topic of consolidation will be brought back at the April 25 business meeting. Wagner said that, eventually, board members can choose to accept the proposal in its entirety, reject it or adjust it as needed – but they are not planning on making a decision at the April 25 meeting, merely starting the process.

“We’re just really talking about a discussion. We don’t know yet where we’ll end up,” he said.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.

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