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School board chairman floats idea of new redistricting talks

SALISBURY — At the end of Monday night’s meeting of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, Chairman Josh Wagner asked the board to restart talks about redistricting.

No action was requested or taken at the meeting, but Wagner said he doesn’t think a future board would have the will or ability to take action on redistricting and he wanted feedback from fellow board members on the issue.

Wagner expressed a growing concern about allocating money for school renovations or construction when some schools remain significantly under and over capacity.

“We’re in a situation where we’ve already approved almost $30 million for Knox,” Wagner said. “We’ve already approved $30 or so million potentially or more for South Rowan Elementary School if we get that grant (up to $10 million from the state). To me, if we’re going to move forward as a board and continue to spend this type of money on new facilities, we have to tackle redistricting.”

Board member Travis Allen said the district operates too many school and that he is a big proponent of consolidation, although it is unpopular. He said he is ready to start a conversation about redistricting because it is a part of consolidation.

No other board members commented on the issue. Alisha Byrd-Clark and Jean Kennedy were absent from the discussion, and Wagner said he was hesitant to talk about it further without them present.

Initial budget passes

The school board on Monday also approved an initial budget, despite uncertainty about how much money the state will allocate for the district.

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the state budget in June, and the most recent action was approval of a veto override by the N.C. House on Sept. 11. The Senate is in skeletal sessions until the end of the month.

Carol Herndon, chief financial officer for the school system, said the state Department of Public Instruction and others have told said it may be October or even December before the budget is final.

“It is a world of uncertainty, and it does make processing and managing our budget incredibly disruptive,” Herndon said. “It’s not an easy space to be in, and we have spending authority from the state at the level of our 2018-19 recurring budget, so that’s what we’ve been working from.”

She said instead of waiting for a budget to be approved, school officials have made their best guess about state funding.

“We will have to deliver on this budget,” Herndon said.

The Board of Education’s priority budget needs total $1.56 million, including $250,000 for student support services to provide two social workers and two nurses; $300,000 for off-duty safety support for elementary schools; $500,000 for incremental maintenance costs; and $500,000 for classified salary increases.

Incremental funding from the county totaled $300,000.

Because the state hasn’t approved a budget, the board approved spending at the previous year’s recurring expenditure level.

For maintenance needs, the initial projected expenditures are almost $4.4 million more than the county appropriation. After evaluating them, school officials reduced projected maintenance expenses by $1.5 million. The initial budget also shows a reduction in all other initial projections by 4.25%. There is also a budgeted reduction in the fund balance of almost $1.5 million.

“We work very hard to optimize on our state funding,” Herndon said. “We spend it first because if we don’t spend it, we have to give it back.”

School accountability model

Chief Strategy Officer Andrew Smith and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Julie Morrow presented what they called a draft of a new accountability model.

The model will focus on academic skills. For the 2020-21 school year, the district will focus on teacher evaluation of student learning by evidence of real-life applications and social studies and science fundamental standards. Three years out, the focus will include competency-based standards.

The model will also evaluate a student’s life goals. Currently, reporting in elementary schools identifies passions; in middle school, a personalized high school interest plan; and in high school, college, military service or employment. 

On Tuesday, the draft was released to directors and principals for review and feedback. Today, it will be released to teacher-lead design teams for feedback.

The deadline for review is Oct. 9, and it will be brought back for discussion at the Oct. 14 Board of Education work session. The board will receive a final presentation at its Oct. 28 meeting.

School safety

The board received a report form risk manager Rick Towell about what the school system is working on to ensure safer schools.

Towell said one of the goals is to have a day when all students in a school have to be moved. He said this would not necessarily be a case of a shooting but possibly hazardous materials released in a traffic accident. Officials are also looking at ways to secure schools such as a fence installed recently at West Rowan High School.

Towell also is looking to improve communications with students and others so that if there is a incident, they can be notified not to come to the school

Towell said in the next 24 months. he would like to stage a mock shooter drill.

Wagner called the measures “an unfortunate necessity.”

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