County sues for school board info

Jun. 28, 2013 @ 11:41 AM

Union County filed an injunction against Union County Public Schools to immediately force the schools to produce detailed financial records going back to 2006.

County Attorney Ligon Bundy filed the suit in Union County Clerk of Court’s office on Wednesday.

Monday, the county commissioners and school board members held the first mediation meeting at South Piedmont Community College. The Union County Board of Education initiated the mediation process because they felt the county’s budget appropriated far too little for schools.

The county’s complaint states that County Manager Cindy Coto requested from Superintendent Mary Ellis in writing the detailed UCPS expenditure records on the morning of June 19. Coto made it clear that the information was needed before the joint mediation meeting on June 24.

The suit filing includes an email from Ellis acknowledging the request.

“Plaintiff did not receive a response to the Records Request from Defendant, and on the morning of June 24, 2013, the Plaintiff, by and through its county attorney, transmitted a letter to the attorney for the defendant by email, demanding that the Records Request be compiled with no later than 5:00 pm. on June 24, 2013,” the complaint states.

Because UCPS has not provided the records, the county filed the injunction to have the financial records produced immediately. County officials appeal to the courts, saying that those records are necessary in order to have meaningful and fair participation in the mediation process.

“If the mediator declares an impasse, the Defendant may file an action in Union County Superior Court to have a jury resolve the funding dispute between the parties...,” the filing states. “Plaintiff will not have an opportunity to engage in discovery and obtain the records through the normal discovery process in order to prepare for trial.”

The complaint cites N.C. General Statute 115C-429(c) as the basis for the injunction. That law states that “board of county commissioners shall have full authority to call for, and the board of education shall have the duty to make available to the board of county commissioners, upon request, all books, records, audit reports, and other information bearing on the financial operation of the local school administrative unit.” But the law does not name specific timelines for producing those documents.

Coto requested records of all line-item expenditures, budgeted and actual, from 2006 to 2014; an explanation of what each school budget purpose code meant; any supporting information accompanying line item expenditures; year-to-date expenditures for the current budget year; positions of all employees, those funded by the state and those funded by the county, employee salaries, promotions, bonuses and pay increases and any classification changes; vehicle records, make and model information and the dates of any new vehicle purchases since 2006; the school’s pay and classification plan for each fiscal year since 2006; any pay increases for county-funded employees; any capital needs requests from Sun Valley High School since 2006; the school board’s adopted financial polices about fund balance, capital expenditures, financial planning and any other applicable policy; actual expenditures for instruction in arts, communication skills, physical education and personal health, math, media and computer skills, science, second languages, social studies and vocational education for each fiscal year since 2006; description of the UCPS budget development process; funding to Union Academy; transfer of county funding between purposes and function codes; capital expenditures by project; cost of mandated technology upgrades for FY 2013-2014; detailed minutes or recordings of any school board meetings where the county’s UCPS funding formula, the FY 2013-2014 capital request and the FY 2013-2014 operating budget request were discussed; sample budget submission from a UCPS department for FY 2013-2014 and travel and training expenses broken down by educational staff and administration for each fiscal year since 2006.

“Please provide this information electronically as soon as possible,” Coto wrote. “As you know the timeline established in the General Statutes for the mediation process is compressed and we feel this information is necessary to have an enlightened process concerning UCPS needs.”

When the request was not delivered to the county after six days, two of which were the weekend, the county attorney sent a letter to the lawyer representing UCPS.

“Union County’s Finance Director has told me that he could comply with a similar records request within two business days,” Bundy wrote. “Thus, the Union County Public Schools should have had plenty of time to comply with this request.”

Bundy cited a 2009 court case that said county commissioners should get school district records during mediation and that the school districts had a duty to deliver said records.

The injunction filing asked the court to require UCPS to respond to the records request, to make any additional records available to the county no later than two days after the request and that UCPS recover the county’s costs.

The injunction is scheduled to be heard in Union County Civil Superior Court at 9:30 a.m. on July 3, 2013.