Editorial: Despite talk, school board again fails to make decision
The direction Rowan-Salisbury School board members planned to take last week seemed clear.
As it faced thousands of empty seats in schools across the district, it needed to finally close schools and likely do so before the end of the current school year. So, on March 25, the school board scheduled public hearings to close Enochville and Faith elementary schools. A large crowd of parents from Faith were in the audience, but that did not deter Wagner, as potential opposition from system-wide redistricting would bring even more angry parents.
“I promise you, when we redistrict, we will have more folks than are sitting in this room here tonight back here because they won’t want to go to the school we are moving them to,” Wagner said during the March 25 meeting. “It will be unfair. It will be unequitable. It will be all of these things. And yet again, the merry-go-round continues to spin.”
And the merry-go-round is, in fact, spinning after a vote Monday cancelling the public hearings and, effectively, postponing and/or canceling closure for Faith and Enochville.
That vote is especially perplexing because of the urgency with which the school board, led by Wagner, seemed to move in the weeks prior. On March 11, Wagner introduced the closure proposal. By the end of the month, public hearings were scheduled.
A closure of one or both schools at the end of the current school year was preferable because of the possibility that staff might apply for other jobs and that students and parents would be left in limbo, school board members and staff said.
Now, failing to follow through on making a tough decision, the school board has done exactly what it hoped to avoid.
As a closure proposal advanced in recent weeks, parents panicked about the future of their children. And they are not out of the closure crosshairs. There’s still a possibility that in a few weeks or months a similar or entirely new closure proposal might emerge. That proposal may or may not include Faith and Enochville.
If the certainty of closure this year was reason enough to move with haste before, we’re not sure how any reason could so quickly derail a process that seemed to have a critical mass of support from staff and school board members. If we’re to believe Wagner and Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds, a countywide tax revaluation that brought an average 5 percent increase in property values and the possibility of fresh funding being allocated for capital needs was enough to cancel the public hearings.
But as board member Travis Allen noted, a possibility is not a guarantee, and there has been no specific funding yet allocated to building a combined East Rowan Elementary School and South Rowan Elementary School — projects that the school board seems to have at the top of its wish list if funding comes through.
Meanwhile, it could be three years before a new school opens, Allen said. That means three more years of funding aging elementary schools with 2,500 open seats and mounting capital needs.
We dislike closing elementary schools just as much as parents in Faith. Community schools are particularly important in places like Faith and Enochville, where the school has long been a gathering place for nearby residents. Case-in-point, Enochville Elementary has served as a polling location for years.
But it’s time to make tough calls. Good or bad, that’s what elected officials across America were put in office to do.
And despite some tough talk in recent weeks, it seems members of the school board are putting off decision-making yet again.
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