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Rowan-Salisbury School Board talks budget, construction

The Rowan-Salisbury School Board met last Monday and, for the first time in months, less than 10 citizens were in attendance. 

Red T-shirt-clad citizens have stormed recent meetings to save Faith Elementary from demolition. The board canceled a public hearing scheduled for April 1 to deliberate potential closure of the school, and citizens seemed to take that as a positive sign.

Faith parent Andrea Woods was present at the meeting. She said: “We think we may have another year, but we are still worried about the future. I have a second-grader, a kindergartner, and a 3-year-old, so we are not anywhere near out of elementary school. Something will eventually have to happen — I don’t know the solution to all this. We are here today because we need to stay informed every step of the way.”

A public hearing set for April 8 was canceled as well. That hearing was intended to deliberate the potential closure of Enochville Elementary School. Only one Enochville supporter has spoken during public comment since the possibility of closure was raised.

At the school board meeting, district Chief Financial Officer Carol Herndon presented the budget message she plans to present to county commissioners.

The budget includes:

  • Local share of state increases in salaries for certified and classified staff: $403,000
  • Local share of state increases in benefits for certified and classified staff: $389,000
  • Addition of two social workers and two nurses: $260,000
  • Additional security in schools: $300,000
  • Additional increases for classified staff: $500,000
  • Escalating maintenance costs: $500,000

“Priority needs” include:

  • Security improvements: $3.4 million
  • HVAC $33.7 million
  • ADA compliance: $0.9 million
  • Roofing: $12.6 million
  • Doors and hardware: $2.7 million
  • Potable water and water infiltration: $1.3 million

A letter from district Superintendent Lynn Moody to the commissioners says, “We acknowledge that our 2019-2020 budget requests are significant and our district is very appreciative of the effort and commitment of the County Commissioners to provide safe and extraordinary learning for students.”

The board voted unanimously in support of the proposed budget.

The board also approved two scheduled “E-learning” days for the coming school year as well as a new pre-kindergarten program scheduled for Mount Ulla Elementary School. This program would be tuition-based at a cost to parents of $600 a month. A discount of $50 per month would bring the total to $550 a month for district employees.

The board addressed mobile units in use throughout the county. Assistant Superintendent Anthony Vann shared that, while 74 units remain in use, he has systematically removed 54 in the past three years, even though there is no line item in the budget for removal. His presentation was in response to a request from board member Dean Hunter, who complained that, in regard to the school consolidation project, it’s hard to say schools are underutilized if they are using mobile units outside. He said several citizens have told him they do not believe their schools are under capacity due to usage of the mobile units.

Vann said he advertised mobile units for sale in the past few years, and buyers had to remove them from the premises themselves at their own cost. Today, he said, there is little or no response to advertisements to sell mobile units. He sees demolition of the units as the only viable alternative, which comes at an expense of about $3,000 per unit.

After board discussion, Moody suggested that Vann return to the next meeting with recommendations as to which units would be best to remove first. The board concurred.

Finally, in another agenda item, Vann presented reasons why construction estimates may seem out of the ordinary to the layman. 

There has been significant public criticism of Vann’s estimates of necessary repair for the schools slated for closure. Citizens have cited costs from home improvement stores in comparison to Vann’s estimates. 

Vann stated he has been a licensed general contractor for 40 years. He cited the many considerations in commercial repairs as compared to residential. A new chiller for a school, for example, sits on the rooftop and may require structural engineering for a school built in the early 20th century. He gave many other examples that distinguish commercial estimates from residential ones.

Moody affirmed Vann’s statements, defending his estimates. 

The board retired to closed session but made no announcements on return to open session.

Maggie Blackwell

Maggie Blackwell is a freelance writer and former City Councilwoman in Salisbury, North Carolina. She started writing on her Tom Thumb typewriter at age eight and now spends her retirement playing with her grandchildren.