06/20/08 — Duplin school funding could go to court

View Archive

Duplin school funding could go to court

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 20, 2008 1:47 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The squabble over the level of county funding of the Duplin County Public Schools System could end up in court.

The Duplin County Board of Education Wednesday invoked a state statute that sets in motion proceedings by which it can contest the level of county funding.

And if the two boards are unable to reach a settlement, the court would be the final arbitrator -- an arbitrator that could compel the county to levy "such taxes as needed to make up this sum when added to other revenues available for the purpose."

In its resolution delivered to commissioners Thursday morning, the school board directs its attorney to file an action in Duplin County Superior Court if mediation between the two boards is "not concluded in a manner approved by the board of education."

The first step in the process will be Monday evening when the two boards sit down with a mediator to discuss the school budget. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service building.

A mediator had not been selected by presstime today.

The meeting will be preceded at 6 p.m. by a closed-door commissioners' meeting with County Attorney Wendy Sivori, who is expected to brief commissioners about the legal proceedings.

The Duplin school system had asked for $13 million in local funding in the 2008-09 budget. However, the budget approved this past Monday night provides $6,927,529 for operating expenses -- $420,117 less than the current budget.

During one of the county's budget work sessions, school officials told commissioners they needed at least $9 million just to operate. Commissioners have indicated that they want the school board to use some of the system's fund balance.

An additional $750,000 had been sought in restricted-use funding. The county reduced the amount to $295,984 before it was eliminated during a budget work session earlier in the month.

Commissioner Zettie Williams asked for the cut until such time that the county could fund the entire $750,000. Commissioners L.S. Guy and Reginald Kenan voted against the motion.

Meanwhile, at this past Monday's session, Guy and Kenan both lamented the lower level of school funding with Guy voting against budget adoption.

In the resolution sent to commissioners, the school board called the county's funding over the past several years "inadequate."

It adds that the funds are not sufficient under state law to support a system of free public schools.

The law requires that a joint meeting of the two boards be held within seven days of the budget's adoption. Those seven days will be up on Monday.

If the boards fail to reach an agreement on Monday, the issue goes to mediation.

The chairmen of both boards, their respective attorneys and respective finance officers and the county manager and schools superintendent will meet privately with the mediator. The mediation must end no later than Aug. 1.

However, if both boards agree, the mediation may continue past Aug. 1. Were that to happen, the law would require commissioners to appropriate funds for the school systems' current expense, "a sum of money sufficient to equal the local contribution to this fund for the previous year."

Any agreement reached in mediation must be approved by both boards.

If no agreement is reached, the school board may file an action in superior court within five days after the announcement of no agreement. The case may be heard by a judge or either board may ask for the issue to be heard by a jury.

The court's judgment may be appealed by either side.