07/03/05 — Schools to challenge county for money

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Schools to challenge county for money

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on July 3, 2005 2:00 AM

The Wayne County Board of Education is contesting the amount of money allocated by county commissioners for current expense for 2005-06.

School board members will meet with commissioners Tuesday at 3 p.m. to discuss the issue.

State law permits local school boards to seek redress if they believe they have not received enough money from county commissioners "sufficient to support a system of free public schools."

Commissioners approved a budget last week calling for a 7.5-cent increase in the tax rate. Part of the reason for the increase, they said, was to set aside money for future school expenses.

The two sides have jostled over spending for months, with the schools saying commissioners reneged on a verbal agreement to come up with extra money for teacher supplements.

Legal procedure requires school officials to file a request for a meeting between the two boards and for that meeting to be held within seven days of the budget's approval.

In a letter to commissioners dated Friday, John Grantham, board vice chairman, requested such a meeting. The county replied the same day. Commission Chairman J. D. Evans announced that Tuesday's meeting will be held at the Wayne County Public Library.

The senior resident superior court judge is responsible for choosing a mediator unless the two sides can agree on one before the meeting.

Although the mediator will run Tuesday's meeting, he or she will not intervene in the process unless both groups reach an impasse.

State law requires the two sides "make a good-faith attempt to resolve the differences that have arisen between them."

If no agreement can be reached, then the issue would be settled through mediation. The mediation conferences would be held in private. State law governing public meetings does not apply in such cases. Most meetings involving these two boards must be open to the public.

The last time the school board took such action was in 1992, the year after the county and Goldsboro City Schools merged. At that time, the school board sought to have commissioners increase the per-pupil level of expenditure for current expense. Commissioners chose to do so through a sales tax that had been earmarked for capital expense, and school officials objected.

The matter eventually was resolved in favor of the schools as then-Clerk of Court David Brantley, now a District Court judge, who sat as the mediator in the dispute, ruled commissioners had sidestepped their obligation and ordered the county to come up with the additional money.

The law requires the mediation to be finished by August 1, unless both sides agree to continue negotiations. In that case, commissioners are required to appropriate the same amount of money as allotted in the previous fiscal year for current expense, until the matter can be resolved.

If the mediator cannot bring the two sides together, either board can ask that the issue be tried in Superior Court before a jury. The trial would take precedence over any other case on the docket.