Gene Miller says he would bring experience to school board

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 29, 2016

by Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — Gene Miller worked as the assistant superintendent of operations in Rowan-Salisbury Schools for more than 15 years, and said he wants to contribute his experience to the Board of Education.

The 69-year-old filed last week to run for seat 5, representing Salisbury, on the Board of Education last week. He said he believes his knowledge of the system’s operation history and funding sources makes could be an asset to the board.

“I know why were in the situation that we’re in in a lot of things,” he said.

When he served as assistant superintendent, Miller helped get the central office off the ground. He said that having fragmented offices scattered around the county cost the system enough to pay for a central office building two or three times over.

“We were wasting, and have wasted, tons of money,” he said.

Miller said he’s worked in small, medium and large school districts during his time as an assistant superintendent of operations, and said he knows the ins and outs of building and funding. When asked about school consolidation, Miller said he believes it is philosophically a bad idea, and is against consolidating schools to save money.

“That’s a reason, but it should not be the reason that you do something like that,” he said.

However, Miller said he’s for the Woodleaf-Cleveland merger. To Miller, there’s no question that Woodleaf needs a new school — during his tenure as assistant superintendent with RSS in the late 90’s, Miller said he and facilities employees were constantly having to dig new wells, searching for viable water.

The pumps that work the school’s only wells are vulnerable during electrical storms — Miller said if the pumps break, the school won’t have water to operate the next day.

“So that’s been 15, 16 years worth of holding your breath and hope that . . . the water doesn’t go away,” he said.

When it came to the merger, it was a common-sense decision, Miller said — both schools were smaller, older and relatively close together.

“It just made sense to combine the two,” he said.

But while Miller feels his knowledge of building and finances are his main strengths, his passions are test scores and teacher retention.

In Sept. 2015, RSS was labeled a low-performing school district by the state. Miller said that while test assessment measures were always “the flavor of the month” and constantly shifting. RSS has always walked the middle of the line, score-wise.

“This is not new for Rowan County,” he said.

If test scores are going to improve, the culture of the county has to change — parents should demand excellence from their children and support teachers.

“Parents have got to start supporting the school system and not challenging the school system every time they turn around. Teachers have got to be given the option to teach and not deal with discipline all day long or with irate parents . . .” he said.

Parents, instead of berating teachers, should come to the school board with concerns — particularly ones involving policy — and let the board mete out changes.

Miller said that teacher vacancies are also not a new problem.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever opened school and not had needs for teachers,” he said.

However, it seemed like the problem was getting worse. Much of the needed support would have to come from the General Assembly, Miller said — expanding education funding and programs like teaching fellows. But there are a few things the school system could do.

Miller spoke in favor of promoting lateral entry, focusing on retired community members with years of experience in a particular subject area.

“These are really smart people that could probably come in and teach a couple classes a day,” he said.

Miller also said he would like to see the system do more marketing and advertising.

Not enough advertising. Would like to see RSS do more marketing.

“We have got to pull out all the stops and we have got to start recruiting like it’s our last chance, and it may well be,” he said.

Miller said he doesn’t have a particular agenda for running for the Board of Education — he just wants to make the county a better place.

“I feel like if I can make a difference, if I can help in some way, I want to do that,” he said.

Miller lives in Salisbury with wife Martha. This is Miller’s first time filing to run for the Board of Education — he has made three bids for the Board of County Commissioners.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.