MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- When President Barack Obama visits Mooresville Middle School on Thursday, not even the local police will know his route until the last minute.
Will he swoop in by Marine One helicopter and land in the school’s backyard, as a group of really big and noisy helicopters practiced on Tuesday? Or will he ride the 33 miles in a police-escorted caravan from Charlotte Douglas International Airport? Only the Secret Service knows, Mooresville spokeswoman Kim Sellers said.
The Secret Service will control which roads will be closed before, during and after the president’s visit to the school on Kistler Farm Road, near N.C. 3 in east Mooresville, she said.
“We will be prepared for a motorcade, a helicopter landing, multiple routes and entries by the president,” Sellers said. “We may not know until it starts. It’s a challenge, but exciting.”
To avoid bottlenecks, residents should shop in west Mooresville or visit the mountains, Sellers said half-jokingly.
Mooresville Town Manager Erskine Smith said the town has a good sense of what to expect, since former presidential candidate Mitt Romney visited Mooresville a day after selecting Paul Ryan as his running mate last year.
To keep the regular number of police patrolling the town, Mooresville planned to contact nearby law enforcement agencies to assist by providing off-duty officers, Smith said.
The town also expects to provide bottled water to spectators along busy thoroughfares as they await the president’s by-invitation-only visit, Smith said.
Mooresville Middle, meanwhile, has notified parents by email and phone to pick up their children at 4:30 p.m., two hours after regular dismissal, principal Carrie Tulbert said. The school and surrounding neighborhoods will be on lockdown beginning at about 11 a.m. for the president’s afternoon visit, she said.
Obama will give a speech as part of his “Middle-Class Jobs & Opportunity Tour.” He previously visited Austin, Texas, and Baltimore. He last visited North Carolina in January, when he talked about economic opportunity in Asheville.
Mooresville Middle will be the president’s first visit to the Charlotte area since last year’s Democratic National Convention. He intends to see the school’s use of technology.
Schools in spotlight
Earlier this year, Mooresville schools Superintendent Mark Edwards was named national superintendent of the year by the American Association of School Administrators. He’s received national acclaim for increasing the graduation rate and for the district’s program that provides all students in grades 4 through 12 with a laptop they can take home each night. Each third-grader gets a laptop for use in school only.
Obama’s visit to heavily Republican Mooresville and Iredell County comes two days after the Iredell-Statesville Schools sent layoff notices to 39 employees, mostly teacher assistants. An additional 30 positions will be eliminated through attrition.
The school system used its fund balance in recent years to stem layoffs. When the system asked the county for an additional $2.5 million this year to keep staffing levels the same, officials refused, saying the county’s operations budget would remain the same as last year.
Tuesday night, a standing-room-only crowd of about 250 concerned parents, teachers and business leaders pleaded with Iredell commissioners to enact a quarter-cent increase in the local sales tax to save the teacher assistant jobs and help fund school building repairs countywide.
At least one of the 25 speakers said the county should be embarrassed about the layoffs given Obama’s visit.
The commissioners made no commitments, and Steve Johnson, chairman of the all-Republican board, told the Observer after the meeting that help wouldn’t come until 2014 at best. The economy, he said, is still too uncertain for the county to take on more debt. And the county won’t know until the second quarter of 2014 how the federal Affordable Health Care Act will affect the county, he said.
Anticipation in Mooresville
Parent David Coble said commissioners can blame the economy all they want but that financing debt will only grow more costly. “But the needs will be the same,” he said.
As a member of the Mooresville school district’s parent advisory council, Coble was among about 30 people invited to the school Thursday. “Politics has nothing to do with it,” Coble said of Obama’s visit. “This is something everybody ought to be proud of.”
The Bank of America data services manager had just finished lunch at his home less than a mile from the school and was returning to work when four helicopters buzzed in Tuesday, including two that resembled Marine One, which flies the president. Coble pulled into a subdivision across from the school, got out his iPhone and snapped pictures.
Students said they can’t wait to see the president. Seventh-graders Allison Mayfield and Madison Woods even painted a rock near the school’s entrance red, white and blue, with help from art teacher Amy Totzke Helms.
“If I could talk to him, I’d congratulate him on being a pioneer, the first black president, and probably freak out – out of excitement,” seventh-grader Daniel Chabeda said.
“He’s just coming here,” eighth-grader Alison Keating said. “We are really lucky, and it’s a great privilege.”
“We took a step of faith with this whole laptop thing,” seventh-grader Andrew Mauney said. “Now with the president coming, we’re reaping the rewards.”