The Rowan-Salisbury School District held a series of community meetings over December to gauge community reaction to its proposed consolidation plan. The plan could ultimately close almost a dozen of the district’s 35 schools. Perhaps the most contentious of the meetings was the final one held at North Rowan High School, where about 350 people wearing the school colors came out to express their opinions about the proposed plan, which includes the possible closure of North Rowan High.
The night of the North Rowan High meeting, a steady stream of concerned citizens filed into the auditorium, including administrators, school system staff, parents, students, and alumni. The meeting started with a video encapsulating the district’s consolidation plan.
The plan proposes the closure of six elementary, three middle, and two high schools. It emerged because of declining enrollment at the system’s schools, aging facilities in the district, and the struggling economy of the county. The district has about $200 million in unmet capital needs it has to address. Most of the schools in the county are more than 50 years old, and the district has more than 4,000 empty seats in its schools. Enrollment at North Rowan High School has dropped from 697 students in 2014-15 to 540 students now. The district projects it would cost $700,000 to demolish the school.
The first stage of the overall consolidation plan would cost about $118 million between 2019 and 2025. The second part of the plan would cost an additional $124 million between 2025 and 2029. The third part of the project does not yet have a cost attached.
Dr. Lynn Moody, superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools, has said that the first stage could be done within the district’s current budget.
After the video presentation outlining the proposal at North Rowan High, school board members attempted to share information with the crowd regarding how they would be divided into groups to continue the discussion. In a moment of backlash, local citizen Randy Gettys expressed the feeling of many in attendance.
“We don’t want to leave,” he shouted. “We are a family! We want to do this together.”
His outburst was met with a round of applause and additional yells of support. It was the desire of many to have the discussion in the auditorium with everyone present. Although a brief back and forth ensued between a board member and attendees, everyone eventually proceeded to the classroom corresponding with the information sheet they were provided upon arrival.
Before the breakout sessions, Renoda Burns, a paramedic and mother of two children in the Rowan-Salisbury School System, voiced concerns over the fact that the system had recently spent a substantial amount of money at North Rowan. The school has a new roof, the band room was renovated, the gym received some upgrades, and the band was provided with new uniforms. Burns questioned where the money would come from to implement the plan if the system is struggling to meet the overall capital needs.
In each classroom, attendees were asked questions that would provide facilitators with feedback for the school board. One of the questions consisted of two parts: What are your thoughts about the plan, and what ideas do you have about how the system can effectively utilize the existing facilities?
A point of contention for many was that a promise to redistrict the lines within the system after Carson High School was built never took place. This led to an open school policy, which some believe left North Rowan at a disadvantage.
Major alarm was caused by a plan in the proposal to develop mobile pod classrooms. Attendees said they didn’t feel comfortable with the students in mobile classrooms due to the frequency of school shootings.
All the meetings held in December followed a similar format — a video followed by breakout sessions in classrooms.
At a meeting at West High School, Travis Allen, a school board member, told attendees that the district was taking the concerns of community members seriously.
“This is not, as I have heard it characterized, a dog and pony show. No decisions have been made. We are looking for your feedback,” he said. Later in the meeting, he said that the final plan could look different depending on what district leaders heard from the meetings. “There are 8 [school] board members and no one wants to close their schools.”
Donna Greene, a West High School parent, said the plan had its merits.
“If you take emotion out of it, it makes sense,” she said before adding that “once the money discussions begin, there may be some additional community push back.”