05/05/10 — School board won't rescind lawsuit

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School board won't rescind lawsuit

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on May 5, 2010 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin County Board of Education stood its ground Tuesday night as citizens called for the board to forgo a $4,795,000 court award that may be collected by supplemental tax levy.

Karen Scalf, a frequent public speaker at school board meetings, was among several residents who asked for the board members to reconsider collecting the award from the county. The school board has a responsibility to the community, she said.

"Your very own policy says that you do," she said.

Commission candidate David Jones, who was defeated at the polls Tuesday by incumbent Harold Raynor, asked the board to "please right this wrong."

"You can drop this suit tonight, and I believe everyone here expects you to do so," he said, to applause from the crowd.

Duplin resident Alice Scott also asked that the school board consider the pleas of taxpayers who might have to pay the supplementary tax levy needed to collect the amount.

"Pledge today to work cooperatively with the Board of Commissioners," she said.

The combined tax hike needed to cover the county's expenses, the court award and the school facilities plan proposed by the Board of Education would put Duplin County's tax rate as the highest in the state, Frank Davis of Calypso said, according to information he collected.

"I urge this board to dismiss this judgment immediately," Davis said.

Board members did not take any action to dismiss the judgment, but board member Jennings Outlaw, who opposed the 2008 lawsuit, expressed concerns over the outcome.

"I felt like we should have worked with the commissioners better," he said.

Outlaw said he hopes the board will be more transparent in the future, and added that he is not certain the board is utilizing school funding as best it could.

Outlaw later made a motion for the board members to meet with members of the Board of Commissioners to discuss the issue, but the motion did not receive a second and failed.

Board member Hubert Bowden, who opposed the lawsuit in 2008, said he felt that he was being "coerced" by residents asking him to take action to dismiss the judgment.

"I don't like to be coerced into doing anything," he said.

Several board members also spoke in support of the 2008 lawsuit. Board member Emily Manning, who expressed plans to step down from her seat on the board in November, said she stood by her support of the lawsuit and was not in favor of dropping the judgment.

The school board would not have gone forward with the lawsuit if the commissioners had provided the school system with sufficient funding, but the funding level dropped over a period of several years, she said.

"We had good reasons for doing it," she said.

Board member Willie Gillespie said as board members, their responsibility is to educate the children for the world of the future.

"What we have to decide as a board is, how important is that to us?" he said.

Gillespie also said that he was not in favor of dismissing the court award.

"I am certainly not ready to back off tonight," he said.