09/01/10 — Duplin officials amend offer to schools

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Duplin officials amend offer to schools

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

KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin County Board of Commissioners met briefly Tuesday in special session, amending a previously accepted memorandum of understanding that will now go to the county's Board of Education for consideration.

The commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of amending the memorandum. The updated version states that the county will provide the school system with $8.3 million in current expense funding, $1.7 million in capital outlay funding and will accept school construction plans for information purposes only, with the understanding that the funding agreement will satisfy the $4.8 million lawsuit judgment against the county. The memorandum also states that the funding arrangement will set a benchmark for future school funding.

Commissioner Zettie Williams voted against the measure, saying the Board of Education members should also have a chance to provide input for the memorandum.

Board Chairman Cary Turner reported that the special meeting was called quickly to adjust the memorandum in time for Superintendent Dr. Austin Obasohan to review it and present it to the board members at their next meeting Sept. 7. The school administrator met with Turner about the issue, Turner said.

The chairman met with County Finance Officer Teresa Lanier to discuss the memorandum's terms, he said. County Manager Mike Aldridge and County Attorney Wendy Sivori indicated they did not have input into the memorandum.

Commissioner Frances Parks emphasized that she had hoped to hear from the county's administrative staff about the memorandum.

"Give those people a chance to help us make our decision," she said.

Ms. Parks voted in favor of amending the already-approved memorandum, and would likely have voted in favor of accepting it at the last meeting if the staff had seen the document beforehand, she added. The memorandum was approved 3-2 last week, with Ms. Parks and Ms. Williams dissenting.

The Board of Education will have the chance to examine the memorandum when Obasohan presents it next week -- but like previous votes on the memorandum of understanding, any vote might be deadlocked at 3-3, Ms. Williams said.

The memorandum is still an "early stage," Turner said.

"If you want to work out an agreement, this is what he's (Obasohan) interested in," he said.

Additionally, the county manger voiced concerns that the new funding benchmark, which amounts to about 40 percent of collected local taxes, could ultimately cost the county more than if it paid the $4.8 million lawsuit judgment.

"That comes to an end. This doesn't," Aldridge said.

Future commission members will have to work with the financial consequences of the decision, too, he added.