Commissioners approve Apple lease after tense exchange between Pierce, teachers

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, March 21, 2017

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — When a group of teachers lined up Monday to criticize County Commissioner Craig Pierce, he fired back by standing at the front of the meeting room and chastising the school system.

Provoked by a Facebook post from Pierce, several teachers came to Monday’s commissioners meeting to defend their professional capability as well as the renewal of a technology contract with Apple.

In the Facebook post, screen shots of which were widely circulated after it was deleted, Pierce called teachers “sheeple” and said the proposed Apple contract included a “ridiculous business model.”

The contract in question would cost up to $14.6 million. It would provide computer hardware, software and equipment for Rowan-Salisbury Schools. Pierce has questioned the cost of the lease and whether the school system appropriately investigated the most cost-effective methods to provide electronic equipment to students and teachers. The school system wasn’t requesting money from commissioners to pay for the contract but needed the county board’s approval.

With Pierce opposed, the contract was approved by a 4-1 vote.

Discussion about the matter started with a tense back-and-forth during the public comment period.

Expecting backlash from teachers, Pierce signed up to speak during the public comment period instead of speaking from his seat at the dais. He stood at the podium, stared into the audience and delivered a short but fiery speech.

“Y’all don’t seem to grasp that idea we’re at the bottom of the test scores and y’all want to continue to do the easy stuff,” he said. “Well, I don’t want you to do that. I want you to go to work and teach our children. They’re our future. They’re your future. So why don’t y’all look at the real situation.”

Pierce said he raised questions about the Apple lease because county commissioners were initially offered limited information about it.

“See, the difference is none of these school board people have to raise your taxes. I do. … That’s the difference,” Pierce said. “Y’all can sit back and criticize and poke fun and make all your little gestures like you’re something great. Let me tell you some school systems that are great, because they’re not here.”

He singled out Daryl Cox, the husband of school board member Susan Cox. During the public comment period, Daryl Cox spoke in favor of the proposed lease but didn’t address Pierce’s Facebook post.

“Don’t open your mouth,” Pierce told Cox with a single finger raised.

He said the county needs to rededicate itself to education and animal control.

“I got my three minutes,” Pierce said. “You got yours. Now, I’m gonna go vote. No.”

Minutes before Pierce’s speech, three teachers defended their profession and the school system’s use of technology. All three addressed Pierce’s remarks, but none mentioned him by name.

“I’m not a sheeple teacher. I do not blindly follow policy just because someone tells me that’s what I’m supposed to do,” said Robin Daye, a teacher at Hanford Dole Elementary School. “I’ve been in education long enough to say no.”

In a previous interview with the Salisbury Post, Pierce predicted Monday’s meeting would be “entertaining.” Daye said educating Rowan County’s children should not be considered entertainment.

“I don’t find it entertaining when my profession and my professionalism is maligned,” she said. “And I know for a fact that we want to attract business and industry in Rowan-Salisbury. We must stop the us versus them.”

She closed by saying it’s important to be professional when making comments in any public forum.

The next speaker was Kathryn Bates, who said data proves the current technology in schools gives her students “a fighting chance.” Currently, the school system uses Apple devices.

Frances Justus was the final teacher to speak. Like Daye, Justus said she doesn’t “aimlessly follow a leader.” Moving to a platform other than Apple, Justus said, would create significant difficulties for teachers and students.

After the public comment period ended, Pierce didn’t speak about the Apple lease again, except to vote against it. Other commissioners did not address Pierce’s comments.

Mike Caskey was the only commissioner to ask detailed questions about the lease during Monday’s meeting. Caskey, who has multiple children in Rowan-Salisbury Schools, asked school board Chairman Josh Wagner a series of detailed questions about whether it would be possible to use the school system’s applications on an operating system other than Apple’s. Caskey ultimately voted for the lease.

County Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds quoted a report on the lease by Rowan County Chief Information Officer Randy Cress. In a two-page report, Cress endorsed the lease. He said the school system had negotiated an “exceptional rate below the public Apple educational rate.” The school system would save nearly $3 million when its lease was compared with the published rate, Cress said. The per-device price for Rowan-Salisbury Schools is lower than the New York City Department of Education, Cress said.

Now approved by county commissioners and the school board, the lease will allow the school system to trade in some of its existing equipment and lease iPads and laptops. The lease lasts for three years.

When asked after the meeting about his comments, Pierce didn’t back down. He said teachers lined up just like he predicted.

“Tell me what I said that was wrong,” Pierce said after the meeting. “Look, I’ve been through this mess with La Resistance. I knew what was coming. I’ve seen it before, but I’m not gonna do like I did last time, sit there and be quiet.”

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.