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Commissioners discussing reviving joint capital project committee with school board

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Board of Commissioners is weighing whether to bring back a long-dissolved committee to bolster communication with the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s Board of Education.

Known as the joint planning committee, the panel featuring commissioners and school board members was originally formed in 2014 as the result of a mediated settlement between the two boards. Commissioners maintain oversight on funding for the school district and the ability to create debt and allocate money for requested capital projects.

The settlement was required after the boards reached an impasse regarding funding for several capital-intensive enterprises, including money for a new central office.

“The idea was to put two school board members, at least one commissioner, the county manager and other folks so we could sit down and talk about long-term goals as far as what schools they wanted to build or what capital improvements they needed,” said Commissioner Craig Pierce, who was appointed to serve on the committee.

The topic of reinstating the committee was raised by commissioners last week as they discussed allocating money to Rowan-Salisbury Schools for stormwater improvements in the upcoming budget. 

Commissioners ended up allocating $1 million for the stormwater improvements, but also allowed for $55 million in new debt for the Rowan-Salisbury School System. The debt could be used to cover the initial estimates provided for the Knox-Overton K-8, which was put on pause by the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

Pierce and Commissioner Mike Caskey, who also served on the joint planning committee in 2014, brought up the idea of reviving the committee.

“We need to implement the capital improvement committee with the schools and let them give us a roadmap for where they want to go and what they expect the commission to be able to fund,” Pierce said during the meeting. “Then we can work together to come up with a plan that allows us to meet their needs.”

The original committee met several times to hammer out details regarding funding for capital improvements, but was dissolved after an agreement was reached.

Dean Hunter, one of the representatives from the RSS Board of Education who served on the committee, remembered it as a productive experience and said it would be “beneficial” to restart. Like Pierce, Hunter said communication between the two boards could be improved.

“Quite honestly, I feel like communication has kind of broken down since that (committee dissolved) on some of the capital projects,” said Hunter, still a member of the school board. “I find out information when I hear about their meetings and maybe they do the same. There hasn’t been a lot of communication since then.”

Rowan-Salisbury Schools Superintendent Tony Watlington said he is open to the idea of restarting the committee, but believes that communication between the two boards is strong.

“I know we have some pretty robust and good communication structures in place,” Watlington said. “I’m certainly willing to participate in what our Board of Education would want to do, but I think they’re doing a good job of communicating already.”

Although Pierce is an advocate for bringing back the committee, he’s still trying to gauge interest among the other commissioners for making it happen.

“I’m not really sure, other than Caskey, what the other commissioners think about doing this,” Pierce said. “I don’t know that it will become part of the next move forward for taking down capital, but I think it’s only fair for the citizens for the school board to contact us to let us know what we need.”

During the commissioners meeting last week, Chairman Greg Edds commented that Watlington might “appreciate the committee” and that it could be a learning opportunity for both entities.

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