06/02/10 — Duplin school board weighs compromise on funding lawsuit

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Duplin school board weighs compromise on funding lawsuit

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on June 2, 2010 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin County Board of Education examined a compromise Tuesday that could avoid a potential 14-cent supplemental tax levy for county residents and begin rebuilding the board's working relationship with the county commissioners.

Duplin County commission Chairman Cary Turner appeared before the Board of Education offering a memorandum of understanding and agreement between the two boards that would fund the school system's $9.2 million budget request for the upcoming fiscal year and influence county policy regarding future education funding levels. The funding is conditional on the school board forgiving the $4.8 million lawsuit judgment against the county.

The amount of money on the table for this budget year represents 40 percent of the county's local property tax income, Turner said.

The memorandum of understanding was approved by all of the commissioners except Reginald Wells, who could not be contacted, he added.

A vote to accept the memorandum of understanding failed 3-3, but board members Emily Manning, Willie Gillespie and Chairman Reginald Kenan spoke favorably about the memorandum despite voting against it. All three representatives commented that they wanted more time to examine the proposed memorandum and suggested delaying the vote.

It is a good step in the right direction, "but I am definitely not in favor of voting on this tonight," Mrs. Manning said.

Gillespie asked the board attorney to examine the memorandum before a vote, but agreed that it looked like a good starting point for moving forward.

"I want to see it over and done with and behind us as bad as anybody on this board," he said.

Kenan said he would gladly vote on the memo after having time to review it, and did not see the urgency of having to vote on it at the meeting.

Commissioner Frances Parks, sitting in the audience at the meeting, said the commissioners hope to have an answer before presenting the county's budget to the public at a scheduled public hearing June 7.

Board members Jennings Outlaw, Hubert Bowden and Chuck Farrior voted in favor of the memorandum of understanding.

Outlaw said the offer is a chance to clear up years of debate over local school funding levels, which sent the two boards to a court in 2008.

"I think we have the chance to end that controversy tonight," Outlaw said.

The funding proposed in the memorandum meets the board's requirements for continuing to improve education, and is considerate given current economic conditions, he said.

Farrior, who voted against prior motions to forgive the lawsuit judgment, said the proposal was closer to what he has wanted than any other option he has seen in a while. The increased funding level would generate over the next five years twice the amount of funding for the school system than the single lump sum of the $4.8 lawsuit judgment, Farrior calculated.

"I believe this is a better option," he said.

The board chose to reconvene Thursday at 7:30 p.m. to again discuss the memorandum of understanding and agreement.

Additionally, Duplin County Superintendent Wiley J. Doby announced recently released results from the state-required 10th grade writing test. Students in Duplin County high schools improved their scores on the test by seven percentage points overall, and the scores at all five high schools went up.

Duplin Early College High School score on the test increased from 72 to 91. North Duplin Junior/Senior High School's score improved from 61 to 76, while James Kenan High School went from 49 to 54, East Duplin High School's score jumped from 64 to 72 and Wallace-Rose Hill High School students improved their score from 62 to 70.

The commissioners also announced a reception for incoming school superintendent Austin Obasohan will be held June 15 at 7 p.m. in the Duplin Commons building. Obasohan will step into the leadership role July 1.