State Board of Education to vote on Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ renewal plan Thursday

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 31, 2018

SALISBURY — Local educators are looking forward to this week’s State Board of Education meeting with bated breath.

The two-day meeting will determine if Rowan-Salisbury Schools will move forward as a renewal school district.

The school district is the only one in the state given the opportunity to become a “renewal” district, a status that will give all its 35 schools charter-like flexibilities in curriculum, staffing, calendar and other areas.

It’s a move made possible by the General Assembly’s passage of House Bill 986, sponsored by Sen. Michael Lee of New Hanover County. The legislation specifies that Rowan-Salisbury Schools can seek renewal status.

The bill was passed June 14 by the state Senate 47-0 and the House, 93-12. On June 28, the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education unanimously approved sending a strategic plan to the State Board of Education for approval.

About 16 Rowan-Salisbury Schools have been designated restart schools, which would give them individual charter-like flexibility. But this is the first time in North Carolina that an entire school district has been offered the opportunity.

Greg Alcorn, founder of ApSeed and a local representative for the State Board of Education, said Rowan-Salisbury Schools is “the Goldilocks’ size to pilot this type of flexibility.”

The State Board of Education will meet Wednesday and Thursday, but the vote on the renewal resolution is scheduled Thursday morning, according to the board’s online agenda.

While Alcorn did not speculate which way the state board might lean, he did say that his money is on Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

“RSS is loaded with bold leadership, talent and community support,” Alcorn said. “… I’ll be watching and cheering them on.”

The board will also vote on an amendment to its allotment policy on renewal districts. According to the amendment, the state will allocate base funding equal to the district’s average per-pupil initial allocations. Additional funds will be allocated for children with disabilities, for children with limited English proficiency and for driver’s education.

Rowan-Salisbury Schools will receive its allocation as a lump sum after the General Assembly adjourns. According to the draft, the district “in no event shall” receive less in state funds for the 2018-19 school year than it did in the 2017-18 school year. RSS’ use of state funds would be unrestricted, except for restrictions in federal law.

That funding flexibility, on top of calendar, hiring and curriculum flexibilities, are the highlights of the renewal district initiative, RSS Board of Education Chairman Josh Wagner said.

“To me, the real focus should be the flexibility we have locally. And if you’re asking me, I think every district should have this flexibility,” he said.

Wagner said he is going to try to make Thursday’s meeting and heh anticipates smooth sailing.

“I don’t expect there to be any issues. From what I have been told, I think the state board may be excited about the flexibility,” he said.

If Rowan-Salisbury Schools can put together a plan that’s easily replicated, it’s Wagner’s hope that the state will extend the offer to all districts.

“I hope it’s just a stepping stone to flexibilities that the state as a whole should have,” he said.

RSS Superintendent Lynn Moody said she plans to attend Wednesday’s discussion of the resolution and proposal but doesn’t foresee any problems.

“I’m not anticipating any bump in the road here,” she said.

The school district will host an informational breakfast on Aug. 8 with a panel discussion. Panelists will include state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, local senators and representatives, and Rep. Craig Horn, who was instrumental in putting together the bill.

Moody said she is looking forward to the resolution passing, as well as the start of a new school year.

“I feel good about it,” she said. “I’ll be excited to put the last piece of approval so that we can move forward.”

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.