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Rowan-Salisbury Schools begins gathering input on consolidation plan

By Rebecca Rider

For the Salisbury Post

SALISBURY — Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ first community input session on a proposal to close and consolidate schools was a subdued affair.

The session, held Tuesday evening at Salisbury High School, is one of six scheduled countywide to inform residents about a proposal to close or consolidate six elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools.

The plan was presented to the Board of Education on Nov. 26, but the idea of closing or consolidating schools to relieve the district’s strapped budget goes back to 2015.

According to an informational video shown before Tuesday’s discussion, Rowan-Salisbury Schools needs about $5.3 million each year to simply maintain its 35 schools. But the district receives only $2.4 million from Rowan County to put toward school repair and maintenance, resulting in an almost $2.9 million annual deficit.

Throw in a few unexpected repairs or replacements, and the school system has amassed more than $200 million in capital needs.

Consolidating or closing schools could result in a net savings of $500,000 per shuttered school, which could then be put toward school maintenance or building a new facility in some areas.

The latest plan is a three-tier, more than 30-year plan that includes the closure or consolidation of:

• North Rowan and Henderson high schools.

• Knox Middle and Overton Elementary, to be replaced by a new K-8 school.

• Corriher-Lipe and China Grove middle schools, to be replaced by a new consolidated school.

• Faith, Rockwell and Granite Quarry elementary schools, to be replaced by a consolidated eastern elementary school.

• Enochville, China Grove and Landis elementary schools, to be replaced by a consolidated southern school.

Instead of hosting Tuesday night’s meeting as a public-comment session, people broke up into smaller groups to go through a series of questions provided by the district. They were also encouraged to ask questions of their own.

But many of those questions did not have clear answers.

Most of the discussion focused around the proposal’s plans for the Salisbury area. In the next five years, it’s proposed that the district should close and demolish Knox Middle School and Overton Elementary School and construct a K-8 facility on property near Salisbury High School.

Cindy Coleman, a teacher and a parent, said she had a few issues with that plan.

“I have a real concern about where that property is going to be located in an already congested area,” she said.

Coleman also asked why the facility could not be built on the grounds of the current Knox Middle School. She expressed concern about kindergartners and younger elementary students being in the same building as eighth-graders.

“That is a monumental age difference,” she said.

Another person said he was also worried about the age differences — specifically, how that would play out with bussing. Would middle schoolers and elementary schoolers be put on the same bus together?

“Bus or at school, it’s both a concern,” Coleman said.

School board Chairman Josh Wagner said the board and the school system do not have all the answers, and he told his group that the proposal will likely change when the board reviews all the community input during its January meetings.

“I believe that we will something different than the recommendation,” Wagner said. “… Some people might see that as a positive, some as a negative.”

When residents were asked what they see as the No. 1 concern about consolidation, they threw out a range of different issues — from bussing to the potential size of future elementary schools.

“Having 1,000 elementary schoolkids is not what I would say is an optimal education experience,” Jane Britt said.

When asked about how the district plans to accommodate population fluctuations, Wagner said any plan would need to be “fluid.”

“Some of that you can kind of plan for, some of it’s a dart in the board,” he said.

Others had questions about the proposal’s impacts on county life — would new, consolidated schools mean that water and sewer lines would stretch countywide? Would construction jobs be bid out to local contractors?

The group also offered alternatives. The former Salisbury Mall could be used as a K-8 facility or as a vocational school, one resident said. If possible, the old wings of some high schools could be demolished, preserving the school itself and reducing the plethora of empty seats in one fell swoop.

Some undercapacity schools could be turned into “lifelong learning centers” that could host job training programs from local colleges. County residents could learn cosmetology at Faith Elementary or earn a commercial driver’s license at North High, some suggested. Instead of being torn down, vacated schools could be marketed to developers.

Minutes of each small-group discussion were taken, and the ideas, questions and concerns will be reviewed at the board’s January meetings.

Wagner said he thought the first meeting went “very well.”

Upcoming meetings include:

• Today, East Rowan High School.

• Dec. 11, Carson High School.

• Dec. 12, South Rowan High School.

• Dec. 18, West Rowan High School.

• Dec. 19, North Rowan High School.

All sessions will start at 5:30 p.m. and end at 6:30 p.m. Questions, concerns and ideas can be submitted to consolidation@rss.k12.nc.us.

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