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School board discusses changing meeting start time

By Rebecca Rider

rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — It’s been nearly a year since the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education changed its business meeting start time from 4 to 5 p.m., but some members are still on the fence.

At Monday night’s board meeting, Vice Chairwoman Susan Cox suggested pushing the start time back to 4 p.m. Cox cited long-running meetings and the pressure it puts on the school system’s staff, who often arrive at work early in the morning, as a reason to change the time.

During previous discussions, board members have raised concerns that starting earlier might mean the board reviews and votes on issues before the public comment period starts at 6 p.m.

Cox hoped to pose a compromise.

“We could start with closed session and have closed session first in our meetings,” she suggested.

Should executive session run until 5 p.m., when the board holds its Celebrations segment, it could be recessed and resumed at the end of the meeting, she said. Should it end earlier, the board could go over policy amendments, which currently occupy the last block of the business meeting.

“It’s not changing the time for public comment,” Cox said. “It’s not changing the time for Celebrations. It would just be changing the time for closed session and manipulating the agenda a little bit.”

Other board members said that starting earlier could make it difficult for future boards. Board member Travis Allen said that right now, most board members have flexible schedules — but that won’t necessarily be true in the future. Starting at 4 p.m. could discourage people who have 9-to-5 jobs from running for seats.

But Cox held firm.

“Starting at 4 is adding only an hour, but it makes a big difference at 9 or 10 when our faculty and staff have been working since 7:30 that morning,” she said.

She added that, should the board start earlier, it would not have a meal prior to the meeting, as it does now.

Board Chairman Josh Wagner said switching the agenda around could cause confusion for those who want to be involved in certain issues.

“If we move it back to 4, it’s going to be almost impossible for someone to look at the agenda and know when something’s going to happen,” he argued.

Cox said the board could cover policy changes first, as residents rarely stay for those discussions.

“There isn’t anyone in the audience but my husband whenever we get to the policy readings,” she said.

Cox made a motion to move the meeting start time to 4 p.m. Board member Jean Kennedy seconded it.

Wagner said the board would “probably bear the brunt” of blame if residents miss something on the agenda because of a 4 p.m. start.

Allen said that meetings often run long and are hard on staff but that staff members aere compensated.

“Even from the outside, it appears more accessible to the public whether they take advantage of it or not,” he said of the current start time.

Kennedy, however, said changing the time would be a chance for the board to “consider someone more than ourselves” and an opportunity to tackle “cumbersome” meetings.

After some discussion, board member Richard Miller offered a compromise: starting at 4:30 p.m. with a closed session.

Miller made a motion to amend the previous motion, which passed with a 4-2 vote. Kennedy, Alisha Byrd, Miller and Wagner voted in favor.

The amended motion setting a 4:30 p.m. start time resulted in a tie vote, with Kennedy, Byrd and Miller voting in favor and Wagner, Cox and Allen voting against it. Board member Dean Hunter was absent.

In an interview after the meeting, Wagner said that the issue is off the table for the time being. Keeping the current start time, he said, is a way of keeping a hand held out to the community.

“If you’re going to ask people to come and be involved, you need to make it as simple as possible,” he said.

After the meeting, Cox said she still thinks late meetings are inconsiderate of the staff. She said she could not say if she will bring the issue up at a later date.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 

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