08/31/08 — Duplin has already spent $159,000 on schools lawsuit

View Archive

Duplin has already spent $159,000 on schools lawsuit

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 31, 2008 10:53 AM

KENANSVILLE -- Legal fees have topped $159,000 and continue to climb in the Duplin County Board of Education's lawsuit against county commissioners.

The county has spent close to $32,000, while the board of education has spent $127,030.

The school board, during a June 23 joint meeting with commissioners, noted that the state average per pupil appropriation for fiscal year 2007-08 was $1,705 compared to $820 funded by the county.

Using those figures, the $159,000 would fund about 93 students based on the state average and about 194 students based on the county average. The county has approximately 8,987 students.

The $13.247 million in current expense funding originally sought by the school board translates to a per pupil appropriation of $1,474 meaning the $159,000 would fund about 108 students.

To date, the county has provided about $7.7 million in local current expense funding. That translates to a per pupil appropriation of about $857 meaning the $159,000 would fund about 186 students.

Meanwhile, the trial will enter its third week on Tuesday. There is no court Monday because of the Labor Day holiday.

A jury of eight women and four men is hearing the case that got under way Aug. 18. Actual testimony started Aug. 21 after nearly three days of jury selection.

Dr. Wiley Doby, schools superintendent, and Carolyn Olivarez, schools finance officer, have been on the stand outlining the school financial needs.

Some 30 witnesses are expected to be called to testify.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 6 after mediation between the two boards was declared at an impasse, seeks an unspecified amount of money and asks that the cost of the suit be borne by commissioners.

However, in their questioning of potential jurors, and during their opening statements, school board attorneys said they planned to ask for an amount "in the high tens of millions of dollars."

The court could order the county to increase property taxes should the jury decide in the school board's favor.

School board attorneys have said \the $5 million difference in just the current expense funding requested by the school board and the amount budgeted by the county could amount to an 18-cent tax increase.

An additional $63 million is being sought for school construction.

The school board had asked for $13.2 million in its 2008-09 budget, but received $6.9 million. In a resolution that initiated the mediation, the school board called the funding inadequate to operate a free public school system.

School board attorneys said the system needs $9.5 million in local current expense funds just to operate. They are still asking for $12.579 million in local current expense funding.

During the mediation, commissioners appropriated an additional $800,000 for the school board's current expense budget and $1,010,203 to the capital outlay budget (no local funds).