Rowan County towns respond to school consolidation proposal

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 24, 2019

SALISBURY — As Rowan-Salisbury Schools works through consolidation plans, the town boards of Spencer, Landis and Faith have responded by passing resolutions stating their disproval to closing their community’s schools. 

The Spencer Board of Aldermen in December, for example, passed a resolution that “reject(ed) and admonish(ed) any proposal or plan that would include tearing down North Rowan High School.”

Mayor Jim Gobbel said he understands the reason for the consolidation plan, but he compared the closing of North Rowan High to “a foreclosure times 10.” Gobbel said community support to keep the school open was shown at the Dec. 19 community-input session, where residents filled North Rowan’s auditorium.

A bit of good news for Spencer came Wednesday when the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education voted to hold off on closing North Rowan until a redistricting plan is complete.

But Spencer isn’t the only town to approve a resolution opposed to the closure plan. Town boards in Landis and Faith have drafted resolutions of their own.

“Their concerns are just like ours,” Gobbel said. “It has a lot to do with tradition.”

Faith aldermen passed a resolution on Jan. 8 that, similar to Spencer’s, states the town “rejects and admonishes any proposal or plan that would include the closing and demolishing of Faith Elementary School.”

Faith Alderman Randall Barger said Faith Elementary is an asset to the community.

The town’s resolution states: “Faith is a tightly knit community dating back generations, of which many attended Faith Elementary School. … The loss Faith Elementary School would greatly impact the community in a negative manner along with the morale of the town residents and their children.”

Barger said the town has a lot vested in its school, including the local economy. Barger previously owned a soda shop Faith that he said benefited from school traffic.

“If the traffic goes away, it will hurt our businesses,” he said,

Barger added that Faith and neighboring Granite Quarry have new housing developments underway, which he expects will to bring up to 350 children into the community.

Barger said he thinks the school board is “pulling the plug” too soon. In five years, a closure conversation may not be needed, and Barger said the school board should concentrate its efforts on redistricting first.

Barger said he met with school board Chairman Josh Wagner and Rowan County Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds last week along with representatives from Faith and Granite Quarry to get answers to closure-related questions.

Landis aldermen passed a resolution of their own on Jan. 7. Their concerns involve the possibility that Corriher-Lipe Middle School and Landis Elementary School will close and a new school will be built in either Landis or China Grove.

The language of the Landis resolution included an invitation to the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education to work with the town to maintain existing schools.

“When you talk about closing the school in Landis, you take a lot of people out of the town,” Alderman Bobby Brown said at the December town meeting.

The town’s resolution stated the schools in Landis host more than 2,300 students and staff members.

Alderman Tommy Garver said he understands there may not be enough money to support all the county’s schools, but no one wants to lose their community’s school.

Nearby China Grove, however, is looking at the positives that school consolidation could bring to the town, said Mayor Lee Withers.

Withers said he will talk to Wagner on Monday and present possible scenarios if China Grove’s elementary and middle schools are closed. Withers said he would like to see China Grove Elementary turned into apartments to respond to the growth in the southern portion of the county. The middle school could be used for town operations.

There’s an opportunity in the closure, Withers said, to build a school in a less trafficked area such as Bostian Road and U.S. 29. It would also be close for Landis students, he said.

“Our stance is if you’re going to build a new school, build it in China Grove,” he said.

Withers said schools aren’t the anchor in communities across the county like they have in the past. Years ago, students would walk or bike to school. Now, most students don’t walk to school even if it’s a block away.

Withers stressed that a building doesn’t make a school great — it’s the teachers, administrators and drive of the students.

Whatever happens with consolidation, Withers said some will surely be unhappy.

“As a county resident, taxpayer and a parent, this is what is best for our school system,” Withers said.