08/04/10 — Duplin Superintendent asks to eye Duplin lawsuit

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Duplin Superintendent asks to eye Duplin lawsuit

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on August 4, 2010 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin County Board of Education authorized Superintendent Dr. Austin Obasohan to examine options regarding the unpaid $4.8 million lawsuit judgment a jury awarded to the schools in 2008.

The board members voted Tuesday for Obasohan to look at the school funding issue for 30 days and present a recommendation for action to the board members at the September meeting. The school board will then decide whether to accept the recommendation or pursue another course of action.

The school funding lawsuit against the Duplin County commissioners resulted in a jury awarding the school system $4.8 million. The award has not been paid, and county officials have stated paying it will likely require collecting a supplemental tax levy from Duplin County property owners unless the two boards come to an alternative agreement.

Each Board of Education member spoke briefly about his or her own thoughts regarding the lawsuit and ruling.

Chairman Reginald Kenan affirmed that he strongly supports allowing the children of Duplin County to receive the money, and would like to see the funds awarded in a way that will not require raising taxes, even if it means delaying the award until an agreeable solution can be reached.

"In that situation, everybody wins," he said.

Board members Willie Gillespie and Emily Manning also spoke in support of pursuing the judgment money. Forgiving the amount would be similar to saying the schools no longer need the funding, Gillespie said.

"The need that was stated to them was clearly proven," he said.

Mrs. Manning said she is not in favor of raising taxes unnecessarily, but would like to see the school system receive the money awarded by the court.

Board member Chuck Farrior supported the lawsuit because he sought acknowledgment that the schools were underfunded, a positive long-term solution for funding the system and written evidence of it for future board members' benefit, he said. He was pleased by the offer county commission Chairman Cary Turner made earlier this year to fund the schools based on a certain percent of the local tax levy. The school board members are working well together at this time, Farrior added.

"I am encouraged that we're closer than we ever have been," he said.

Board member Hubert Bowden stated he was against the lawsuit from the start, and still feels that it was not needed. The school board should "forgive" the judgment, he said.

Board member Jennings Outlaw also opposed the lawsuit and, like Farrior, found the commissioners' funding offer to be a fair one for the schools, he said.

Obasohan will look into the issue in addition to an in-depth 90-day assessment of the school system's needs he is currently conducting. Another topic the superintendent hopes to address in the future is the need to relocate the school system's central offices, he said.

In other business, the board members heard from Assistant Superintendent Cary Powers about the school system's Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP results. Eight of the system's 16 schools made AYP, an "all or nothing" measurement of school progress based on the performance of student subgroups in each school. If even one goal is not met, the school does not meet AYP, Powers said.

Even though not all schools made AYP, "the teachers are working hard, the kids are working hard," and when ABC scores are released this Thursday, schools "will see a lot of successes," Powers said.

Warsaw Elementary, Warsaw Middle, Rose Hill-Magnolia Elementary and Beulaville Elementary are in school improvement status, while North Duplin Elementary came out of school improvement this year. The four schools in school improvement status are required to offer parents the option of sending their child to a different school, or providing supplemental educational services for the child. About 2,239 students attend the four schools currently in school improvement in Duplin County.

During the work session, the board members heard reports from several departments, including new interim Chief Financial Officer Kay Fulp.

Ms. Fulp informed the board that although the school system will revert $1.9 million in funding back to the state through discretionary reversions, cutting the positions will not mean losing any employees. The school system chose to revert positions instead of reverting funds from the state's dollar allotment because it saves the county money, she said.

The Board of Education meeting differed from previous meetings as the board members spoke into microphones to make it easier for audience members to listen to the proceedings. The evening also marked the first of a new organizational structure for school board meetings. In the future, the Duplin school board's first meeting of the month will be a work session in which members will hear information for consideration. They will take action on any items at the second monthly meeting.

Public comments will not be allowed at the work session, but will be held as scheduled at the business meeting, normally conducted the third Tuesday night of the month.