07/09/09 — Board asked to reconsider lawsuit against Duplin County commission

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Board asked to reconsider lawsuit against Duplin County commission

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on July 9, 2009 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Head Start programs in Duplin County shouldn't be affected by the economy, the Duplin County Board of Education learned Tuesday.

The school system is slated to receive $1,180,628 this year, the same amount of Head Start funding it received in 2007-08 and 2008-09, federal programs director Linda Smith said.

More than 170 children in Duplin County are enrolled in the early childhood program. The program "zeroed out" its funding for the previous fiscal year, spending all of the money as required by state guidelines, Ms. Smith said.

Two people spoke at the public comment period during the meeting, castigating the board for poor money management. Ed Hudson Jr. repeated the remarks he presented to the Duplin County commissioners at their June 15 meeting.

"Do we really want our children to be part of this?" he asked the board.

Jimmy Dixon told the board its lawsuit against the county, which resulted in a jury awarding the school system about $4.7 million, was "the worst decision" the board members have made.

"I think this board was under-informed, misinformed and not because of your own abilities. You did not inform yourselves," Dixon said. "You all don't have a funding problem. ... You have a spending problem, and a leadership problem."

Board members did not respond to the comments.

Jennings Outlaw asked that Richard White be allowed to give a 20-minute presentation on school funding even though it was not scheduled on the agenda, but Board Chairman Emily Manning opposed the idea.

"Wasn't that all determined by a jury a year ago?" Mrs. Manning said. "I just don't understand the reasoning for that."

Outlaw argued that he felt all the board members should be operating on the same page, with the same information.

"We need to listen and hear the same information the county commissioners have heard because that's what they're making their decisions on," he said.

He felt three minutes was not enough time for White to share the data he had collected, Outlaw said.

Mrs. Manning proposed a vote, which passed in favor of hearing the presentation.

The state already gives Duplin County Schools more than $4 million a year under its laws governing low wealth county allocations, on top of the more than $4.7 million awarded by the jury, White said.

"Folks, you went to the well twice, and that's why people are upset," he said. "I plead with you, don't double-dip, dismiss the lawsuit."

Factoring in the lawsuit award, Duplin County residents would spend 226 percent more on education than the 20 richest county in the state, White alleged.

"It's quicksand, it's just constant quicksand," he said. "We need an industrial base. We're not going to get it with (these) tax rates."

The information in his presentation was "supported by public documents," White said.

In other business, the board passed its consent agenda, updated policies on electronic mail and communication and the school system's wireless network.

Board members also voted to increase fees for activity bus use, raising the charge per mile from 90 cents to $1. Wayne County charges $2 per mile, said Jeff Thigpen, director of transportation for Duplin County Schools.

The board also learned the school system will receive a $25,852.62 child nutrition grant that will help purchase new equipment for school kitchens.