07/17/08 — Duplin county, school negotiations on funding in stalemate

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Duplin county, school negotiations on funding in stalemate

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 17, 2008 1:19 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The deadline to wrap up mediation between the Duplin County Board of Comm-issioners and the county Board of Education board is two weeks away and there is little indication that much progress has been made.

The next session will be July 23 and there are no further sessions scheduled.

Duplin schools meeting

News-Argus/Steve Herring

Aug. 1 is the deadline for mediation to conclude between Duplin County commissioners and the Board of Education. Duplin Schools Supt. Dr. Wiley Doby, right, speaks with a person out of camera range at the board’s Tuesday night meeting. Seated left to right are board members Willie Gillespie, Hubert Bowden and Reginald Kenan. Also in attendence at the meeting but not visible was chairman Emily Manning.

Meanwhile, Duplin County Manager Mike Aldridge said Wednesday that he and commissioners are hopeful that a successful compromise can be reached that will benefit both sides.

He said rules governing the private mediations limit his ability to make comments about the process.

Mediation may be extended past the Aug. 1 deadline if both boards agree.

Short of that, and without a funding agreement, the next step will be a hearing in Duplin County Superior Court.

The case could be heard by a judge or either side could ask for a jury trial.

In its resolution asking for the mediation, the school board authorized its attorneys to file court action "if mediation is not concluded in a manner" it approves.

The court could force the county to raise taxes in order to fund the schools.

Mediation was triggered by the school board last month after its members said county budgets of the past several years failed to adequately support a free public school system.

The school board had sought $13 million in local funding in this year's budget, but the county budget approved last month appropriated $6.9 million.

School board members have said the system needs $9 million just to operate.

The two boards met June 23 but reached no agreement.

The school board's presentation was made by Raleigh attorneys Richard Schwartz and Brian Shaw. Aldridge spoke on behalf of the commissioners.

After that session commissioners added Fayetteville attorney Neil Yarborough to their mediation team.

Commissioners are represented by Aldridge, board Chairman Harold Raynor, Finance Officer Teresa Lanier, County Attorney Wendy Sivori and Yarborough.

Representing the school board are Superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby, Board Chairman Emily Manning, Finance Officer Carolyn Olivarez, county attorney David Phillips, Shaw and Schwartz.

Chapel Hill attorney and professional mediator Andy Little is the facilitator for the sessions.

The first mediation session held June 30 did produce one surprise when commissioners voted unanimously later that evening to appropriate an additional $425,000 for the schools' current expense budget.

Aldridge called the move "a good-faith" effort by commissioners.

A seven-hour mediation session ended about 10 p.m. Monday. A third session was to have been held on Tuesday, but was reschedule until July 23 because of Monday's marathon meeting.