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‘A war that we cannot win’: board looks for ways to provide supplements

By Rebecca Rider

rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — When you’re a school board, $400,000 doesn’t go far. The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education spent nearly an hour at their Monday work session discussing how best to spend county funds.

In April, the board requested a $2.89 million expansion from the Rowan County Board of Commissioners — $2.4 million of that would have provided a 2 percent salary supplement for all staff. But On June 6, when the county finalized its budget, the school system only received $1.7 million.

With the possibility of a 5 percent salary increase mandated by the state looming on the horizon, the board would need to reserve $1.1 million to provide the raise to staff paid out of the local fund. Which leaves just $460,000 to use in local supplement increases or other requested items.

“You would not be able to do even a half percent in local supplements,” Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody said.

That $400,000 would also need to provide for a teacher recruiter and a co-principal at Koontz Elementary – both positions that were created earlier this year.

The question became one of priorities.

The board agreed that the top priorities were supplements or a pay increase for staff and the two restorative classrooms the superintendent’s disciplinary committee has recommended for students with behavioral issues. The cost of starting the program would be approximately $237,000.

Board member Dr. Richard Miller data has shown “over and over and over and over again … that we’ve got to be able to attract people to rowan.”

“I think the question is, at least for the board, is where are our priorities,” Vice-Chairman Dean Hunter said.

Board members agreed that something needed to be done to provide incentives for teachers to stay, but board member Chuck Hughes said that, should the 5 percent state increase pass, other counties would be adding their own supplements on top of that.

“It’s a war that we cannot win,” he said.

Hughes suggested using the money to award bonuses to positions or groups that they needed to keep the most.

“The problem is, I couldn’t tell you what area’s hurting the worst. … We are struggling across the board,” Moody said.

Miller said that the board needed to think of the supplement as strengthening the county’s economy.

“We’ve got to look at that as building Rowan County,” he said.

The board looked into the possibility of bonuses, or finding money for the restorative classrooms or the supplements somewhere else – by expansion, slightly increasing class size or if they “cut fat” from the budget.

Moody said she couldn’t tell the board that there was no way to repurpose money from the budget, but added that it was already lean.

“It seems like the burden, financially, is to make a decision that can’t be made,” Hunter said.

He added that he’d like to see the administration bring back some options and ideas on “what could be done” to create at least enough for a 1 percent salary supplement.

Hughes suggested using the fund balance to supply one-time bonuses, and Miller suggested tweaking some local positions to free up some funds. Hunter said he was still new to the budget process and “innocent” to how it had been done in the past.

“At some point, there has to be a very difficult decision made, and that may be cutting positions or whatever, if we’re going to address our number one priority,” he said.

Supplements aren’t the only things teachers look at when choosing a school system, or making the decision to stay, Moody said. They also consider professional development, teacher supports, behavior specialists and other factors. Moody said that administrative staff would bring back ideas.

There was some discussion that Rowan County’s tax base resulted in a lean budget for the county and the school system. Hunter said he understood, but if the supplements are a priority, then they should examine every option to see if they can find the money.

“We’ve made a lot of really tough decisions. We’re not sitting back holding a pot of money anywhere,” Moody said.

The board agreed to direct the administrative staff to come up with some ideas for finding money for supplements or the restorative classroom and report back at the board’s June 30 business meeting, which will be held in the Wallace Educational Forum boardroom at 5 p.m.

In other business the board:

• Declared its property on the corner of North Clay Street and East Franklin Street surplus.

• Agreed to begin live-streaming meetings with equipment already in place in the Wallace Educational Forum board room. Staff have been directed to look into purchasing another camera.

• Named Patrick Hosey the new principal for Rowan County Early College and Arlisa Armond the new principal for Henderson Independent High School.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.

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