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Editorial: Tough decisions on schools ahead

Schools across Rowan County are going through their back-to-school rituals. As the first day of school nears, crews descend upon campus to get the grounds ready. These are not paid staff, mind you. Instead, as one parent put it, volunteers are asked “to show up on a hot, steamy day to prune, rake, weed, till and power-wash.”

While volunteers take care of the aesthetics, though, Rowan-Salisbury campuses have some much greater capital needs — and not nearly enough money to cover them. Addressing these problems will require more sacrifice than a sweaty Saturday. Would property taxes have to increase? Might another school have to close?

These issues came up as parents and school officials shared emails over the weekend about campus maintenance.  When Knox Middle School parent Jason Walser sent out an email thanking volunteers — and underscoring Knox’s need for major renovation or replacement — it touched off a debate about what should be covered by government funds.

Dr. Lynn Moody, superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools, jumped in to clarify that all Rowan-Salisbury schools hold parent repair/clean up days; Knox is far from alone in that. Moody went on to say that the system faces $100 million in maintenance capital needs. She explained:

This figure does not even include a major renovation or rebuild of a new school.  It is just to address maintenance needs for paving, roofing, flooring, windows, heating/air-conditioning needs throughout the school district. Actually, Salisbury High School received the largest amount of capital dollars and Knox the second largest of the 35 schools for this past year.  However, dividing a small amount of money between 35 schools, is not nearly enough.

Like all of you, I too am truly appreciative and grateful of everyone’s donations of time and money.  It would be so much worse without all the help and support. But, let me emphasize, our immediate needs exceed $100M+ in capital funding. 

I could guess how we got to this place.  But, I’m not sure it matters.  What matters is — what are we as a community going to do to solve it? How do we get the public funds we need?

Are we willing to make some difficult choices? Are we willing to possibly float a bond referendum, close schools, reassign students, reprioritize local funding, and/or raise taxes? Are there other ideas or more creative ways for raising $100M in public funds? What will the community support to make our schools safe, energy efficient and attractive for the best learning environment?

Difficult choices lie ahead. It will be interesting to see how school board candidates answer questions like the ones Moody raised.

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