RSS board agrees to start meetings later

Published 2:45 pm Tuesday, May 24, 2016

By Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — Less than six months after changing its meeting start time, the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education is pushing its business meeting back an hour. After much discussion, the board voted Monday to begin its monthly business meetings at 5 p.m.

Earlier this year, the board voted to change its meeting start times out of consideration for administrative staff, who were often required to work long hours on meeting days — board work sessions were moved to 1 p.m., and business meetings began at 4 p.m., with public comment at 5 p.m.

But in recent meetings, community members expressed frustration that business meetings begin while many people are still at work. Board Chairman Josh Wagner raised the issue at the board’s May 9 work session, and it was brought back for a final vote at Monday’s business meeting.

Board member Dean Hunter made a motion to push the time back, and board member Travis Allen seconded.

The board was split on the decision. Wagner, Hunter and Allen expressed support of pushing the time back, while Susan Cox, Jean Kennedy and Chuck Hughes were in favor of keeping the start time the same, but pushing public comment back until 6 p.m. The discussion kept circling back to two topics: the strain the often long meetings could put on staff and providing access to the community. Cox said pushing back public comment would be a good balance.

“I think we could accomplish both purposes,” Cox said.

Cox suggested the board could go through “relevant” items on the agenda before arriving at public comment. But Allen disagreed.

“I think that’s backwards,” he said.

If the board does business before the public comment, he said, the board might make a decision before the public had a chance to express an opinion on the issue. Cox also commented that people rarely show up to board meetings unless there was an issue — she felt that putting staff first made sense. But Hunter and Allen disagreed.

“Whether they take advantage of it or not, I think we need to offer that time,” Allen said.

Hunter said he didn’t understand why moving the meeting time back an hour was an issue — it was only one hour a month. If one person came for public comment once a year, he said, it would be worth it. Early meeting start times also put a strain on families trying to come for the board’s celebrations section. Board member Dr. Richard Miller said the topic was “kind of a balancing act,” and asked the system’s public information officer, Rita Foil, if moving meetings back would help staff, students and family members make it to celebrations. Foil said that it would.

“I don’t understand that this is such an issue that we’re neglecting the voice of the community — whether it’s one in 52 weeks,” Hunter said, “If it’s one person, we’re talking about the community . . . we’re talking one day out of an entire month that we can make a sacrifice of one hour. But we’re sitting here for some reason seems like we’re trying to sell to the administration that we’re so concerned about your time — I’m concerned about everybody’s time. But I don’t know why a board of seven members are so concerned about administration’s one hour out of one month, because we’re here for the community.”

But Cox said it was one hour for board members, but not for staff.

“If this room had 10 people every meeting, I might feel differently. If it had five people, every meeting, I might feel differently,” she said.

The board records every meeting, she pointed out, and is looking into live-streaming — there are ways for people to be involved even if they can’t attend the meeting. If the board moved back public comment and people began showing up, she said, the issue could always be put up for a revote. Kennedy added that system staff aren’t paid “a penny” of overtime for long meetings.

The motion passed in a 5-2 vote, with Allen, Miller, Wagner, Hughes and Hunter voting to begin business meetings at 5 p.m., and Cox and Kennedy voting against. The change will be effective beginning with the June 27 business meeting.

In other business:

• The Superintendent’s Disciplinary Committee recommended starting up two restorative classrooms for elementary school students who may struggle with behavioral or disciplinary issues. The classrooms would start up in the fall of 2016, and the pilot program would have a staff of one teacher for each classroom, a teacher’s assistant, a social worker, a program coordinator and a behavior intervention specialist. The classrooms would have no more than 10 students per teacher. The board agreed to put the recommendation under consideration for the 2016-17 budget.

• Agreed to allow staff to pursue recruiting teachers through the program Visiting International Faculty. The program is in use by 49 counties in N.C., Assistant Superintendent Dr. Julie Morrow said. Morrow explained that the program has a null cost to the system, as the visiting teacher’s salaries are paid for from already allotted state funds. Visiting faculty would fill seven positions at system schools that are difficult to recruit for and have at least two vacancies, she said — it would not jeopardize current teacher positions, and the system would not overlook its current recruitment pool. Visiting faculty would be recruited for Isenberg, Koontz and Knollwood elementaries and Knox Middle School. According to the presentation, Visiting International Faculty teachers have an average of seven years teaching experience and stay in the systems for an average of four years — the length of a work visa.

“They can only stay four years, which is longer than the average of our beginning teachers right now,” Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody said.

The decision to have staff enter into negotiations with the program was approved unanimously.

Contact Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.