The Rowan-Salisbury School Board met last week and once again, parents, staff, and students from Faith and Enochville elementary schools were left wondering if their schools will be standing next year.
The meeting was originally scheduled to be a public hearing, the first step in closure of Faith Elementary. Suddenly, three days before the hearing, the hearing was canceled and a school board meeting was called in its place.
First on the agenda was County Commission Chair Greg Edds. Edds spoke for 22 minutes about a number of topics, never directly addressing either of the school closures. The county just completed property revaluation, he said, and though the commission anticipated a 10% increase in property values — and a corresponding 10% increase in tax revenue for the county — total revaluations came in at only 5% higher than before, a disappointment to the commission. This, he said, limits the extra support the county commission can offer the school board.
During Edds’ remarks, the room was uncharacteristically silent. He referred to the 2,500 empty seats in Rowan elementary schools and acknowledged the school board must take action. He observed that Cabarrus County has twice as many elementary students as Rowan County, yet the same number of schools. He mentioned the positive relationship between the school board and county commission, a recent development in county history. He stated that while the school board has the “full support” of the county commission, board members are all equally elected, and no one is subservient to anyone else.
Toward the end of his remarks, Edds addressed the loud conduct of citizens at school board meetings and remarks on social media, saying, “I just want to encourage everyone to respond with wisdom, kindness, understanding, and charity. I hope you teach your children, while it’s honorable to disagree, how to stand up for what you believe in, please teach your children how you disagree matters. We don’t want to be divided. Figure out how to do things as a community. I’ve watched for the past few weeks. I’m sad to say I see pain in the eyes of our school board members. It’s been painful to watch. I’m not here to make any announcements, that’s not my place; I’m not a school board member.”
Every member of the county commission was in attendance at the meeting in support of the school board.
Edds concluded his remarks by saying, “Someone said, why don’t we borrow $200 million? That equals an additional $0.20 on the dollar. There’s not enough tax increase that we can possibly do to get us out of the predicament that has been laid the past decades.
“I’m asking for your patience with commissioners as we work to create new economic wealth. Please be patient with this board as they work through a very, very difficult decision for this community. We have tried to give them leverage to do what they need to do. Let us know what we can do to help.”
After Edds left the podium, school board members once again discussed possible courses of action, coming to no consensus.
School board member Dean Hunter made a motion to cancel the public hearing set for April 8, regarding closure of Enochville Elementary School. He said since the public hearing for Faith Elementary was canceled, it was only fair to cancel the hearing for Enochville, as well. His motion died for lack of a second.
For 40 minutes, half the board members spoke vaguely about possible courses of action, never identifying what those courses might be, nor how they might be funded. The other half of the board asked, “What are we talking about?”
Board member Jean Kennedy finally addressed the disparity on the board, saying, “We’re on a roundabout now. We have established priorities. We cannot continue to change priorities. I am emotional about this. It’s not as simple as you seem to think. We are talking about moving children. We had determined which schools will receive money. I’m tired of this.
“Some of us obviously don’t matter. I realize we can’t have quorum outside of meetings, but a few people meet with other people and come back and tell us what has been decided. I am just as elected as you are. I’m in that ‘spineless’ group that hasn’t made a rash decision. You know why? Because children are the reason I ran for this board.”
Board Chair Josh Wagner disagreed, saying he called Kennedy after each meeting he held with commissioners. Kennedy replied saying, “It’s not the same, and you know it.”
Following the exchange, the board retired to closed session. There were no announcements as a result of the closed session, but immediately after reconvening, Hunter repeated his motion to cancel the Enochville hearing. He received a second and the motion was passed unanimously.
At that point, public hearings for both schools that were on the demolition list were canceled.