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Rowan-Salisbury Schools grilled about cost of new technology

Tense discussion

Craig Pierce

Josh Wagner

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — After a tense debate Monday between Rowan County Commissioner Craig Pierce and school board Chairman Josh Wagner, the county’s governing board delayed consideration of a $14 million lease with Apple Inc. for county schools.

The lease, which has already been approved by the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, appeared before commissioners Monday for a final approval. The three-year lease would provide laptops and iPads to the school system for the next three years.

With a hefty price tag, commissioners grilled Wagner and school system officials about the lease.

First came a series of tough questions from Commissioner Mike Caskey, who said his children attend schools in the Rowan-Salisbury system. Caskey said he is “100 percent” behind the school system’s one-to-one initiative, but he wanted more information about the lease.

Then, Pierce fired off a number of questions and wondered aloud whether the school system had asked all the necessary questions.

“I have a little bit of trouble thinking that this is the only way we need to proceed,” Pierce said. “I haven’t seen any documentation showing that we have looked at any other way to proceed with educating our children. … Being that we’re not at the top of the list, I’ve got to think maybe we need to look at successful school systems and see what they’re doing.”

Pierce used Lexington City Schools and Carteret County Schools as examples.

“I would ask you: have we done our true due diligence and looked at all the different ways we can educate our children with a combination of textbooks as well as electronic devices to see what is the best fit,” Pierce said. “I don’t see that here. All I see is another, ‘Write me a check.'”

Pierce said he was asking “hard questions” that the school board should have asked before coming to the Board of Commissioners.

Responding, Wagner started by clarifying that the school system is not looking for any money. Wagner said that, as an elected official, his job is to ask tough questions, but it’s also important to trust people such as Superintendent Lynn Moody or County Manager Aaron Church.

“What the board has done is have significant conversations,” Wagner said. “We have asked, probably, questions the administration has been a little aggravated with.”

Wagner said laptops and iPads won’t be the “silver bullet” to solve all of the school system’s problems. He said Moody was hired to implement a vision that would improve the quality of education.

“We have to give her some latitude,” Wagner said.

Moody followed Wagner’s comments by clarifying an earlier point made by Pierce. She said Lexington and Carteret County’s public schools serve a different demographic than Rowan-Salisbury.

“We have to approach our work differently,” she said.

She said the school system may not be the best in the state, but it has improved significantly in recent years.

At one point, Pierce said he was sure the $14 million lease would pass because other commissioners would “rubber stamp” it. That comment prompted Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds to ask others on the county’s governing board to verbally state that they would not make a “mindless, rubber-stamp decision”

“Quite frankly, that’s pretty insulting,” Edds said, addressing Pierce’s remark. “Josh, how many times have you and I met on this? Hours and hours? … What goes on outside of this meeting, not everyone always knows, but that’s pretty insulting to sit here and listen to someone say we’re going to make a mindless, rubber-stamp decision.”

Referring to Pierce’s Carteret County remark, Edds said is inappropriate to compare the Rowan-Salisbury school system to that of a beach community.

County Commissioner Judy Klusman said people shouldn’t insult the school system unless he or she has visited a classroom. Teachers and school administrators are doing the best they can, Klusman said. She said the county commissioners should “get on with it” and pass the lease.

Caskey, who was previously a school board member, wasn’t quite ready to proceed with the Apple lease. He said it is imperative that the county continue its one-to-one program but he wanted more time to look over documents. Caskey said he wasn’t aware that the school board would be presenting the lease until Monday’s meeting agenda was published last week.

He suggested delaying consideration until commissioners have had more time to review relevant documents. Commissioners unanimously voted in favor of Caskey’s suggestion.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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