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April 21, 2021

County, school board approve $40.5M plan for school buildings

The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education and the Rowan County Board of Commissioners both unanimously voted Monday to approve a resolution that will provide $40.5 million to the school system’s capital needs projects.
The funds will go toward the school system’s three critical needs: a central office, upfitting Knox Middle School and the replacement and consolidation of Woodleaf and Cleveland elementary schools.
Rowan-Salisbury Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody said the agreement was a “give and take” for both the commissioners and school board.
“I am very pleased,” she said.
“It’s been a long haul,” said Chairman of the Board of Education Richard Miller, “but again, 20,000 kids are worth that.”
Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Jim Sides said the agreement is “major for everyone involved,” especially the school system and the county.
Although he voted to approve the resolution, Sides was not thrilled about the final product.
“This was not a step forward for education in Rowan County,” he said.
“I’m not happy with the three projects,” Sides said, adding that the school system needs to focus on educating students rather than building buildings.
The biggest point of contention between commissioners and the school board was a section that states that the $40.5 million is “additional funding” for capital projects and that it should not be “supplanted in any way by a reduction of local funding provided for the current expense needs” of the school system.
Although they did compromise slightly on the wording, the school board’s attorney, Richard Schwartz, said the section was “something the Board of Education had to have.”
Vice Chairwoman of the Board of Education Kay Wright Norman said the phrase was protection for the school board.
Commissioners felt the language was unnecessary, however.
“It was not a part of the agreement we made Feb. 27,” Sides said.
“That is simply a statement of reality,” said Chad Mitchell, citing that legally, except for in an extreme economic downturn, county commissioners would be unable to cut funding for the school system’s current expense needs.
Ultimately, commissioners approved the change.
“If this document is not approved, we’re going to court,” Mitchell said.
County commissioners removed a section stating that the school board would still have access to a fund for emergency capital needs.
Miller said the school board was “willing to go along” with that change, as long as there was an understanding that they would come to commissioners for funding in emergency circumstances if the need arose.
Commissioners were uneasy about having specific dates outlined to provide specific dollar amounts for funding, saying that much of the funding was dependent on the school board providing certain pieces, such as bids or assessments before the county could borrow the money.
“We’re agreeable with you starting on the central office project as soon as possible,” Sides said.
“I think the board fully understands we cannot hold you responsible when something we’re supposed to be submitting isn’t there,” Miller said.
In the resolution, the boards also agreed to form a joint planning committee within 30 days of the agreement to develop a capital improvement plan. The committee will be made of administration, finance and elected leadership from both the school board and commissioners and will meet at least monthly until the improvement plan has been developed and approved by both boards.
Both the school board and county commissioners agreed there is still much work to be done.
“This is one step on a long process. With this part being finalized, we can begin now to have a directional focus in planning the specifics for what is in the best interest of our students,” Moody said.
“Naturally, I’m glad it’s resolved,” Sides said, but added, “There are still a lot of bridges that have to be crossed.”
Assistant Superintendent of Operations Anthony Vann said the next step is finalizing site selection, which “drives the design and approval from all the agencies.”
The board is still considering the property on the 500-block of N. Main St. that was selected when commissioners nixed the property at 329 S. Main St. several months ago.
“What we have to do now is communicate with the site owners,” Vann said.
After that, there will be assessments to the property, as well as some changes to the site plan and design. There are still questions about suitable parking options at this location.

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