Bundy: county wasn't presented UCPS needs

Oct. 22, 2013 @ 04:47 PM

Union County plans to appeal the school funding verdict based on the argument the county was not presented capital needs by the Union County Public Schools Board of Education.

In a room packed with school employees and parents, commissioners outlined their reasons for appeal and agreed to appropriate $5.3 million for the school’s current year capital request.

Union County Attorney Ligon Bundy said he reviewed the May 15, 2013, meeting when some school board members spoke to commissioners about the schools’ budget request.

“There was information presented in the trial that was in addition to the information that was presented to the board of commissioners during the budget process,” Bundy said.

There were four subjects UCPS attorneys focused on during the trial: leaking roofs, technology upgrades, handicapped access to conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act and campus safety upgrades. Jurors heard detailed justification for the school board’s capital requests. But the county got only line-item capital requests from UCPS this spring.

“These roofing reports were not presented to you during the budget process,” Bundy said. “These roofing reports included photographs of deteriorated roofs that were taken after the lawsuit against the county was filed on August 1, 2013. So those photographs were not in existence when you went through the budget process  with the board of education.”

Several teachers and principals testified about leaking roofs and lack of ADA compliance in their respective schools. But those same people did not testify before the commissioners during the budget process, Bundy said.

“I do feel that it is my obligation to bring to the board’s attention that, and Mr. Simpson has requested that I bring it to your attention in a public meeting, this additional information became known to me and the county staff during the trial that was apparently not presented to the board of commissioners during the budgeting process,” Bundy said.

Many people commented to Simpson that $91 million was an incomprehensible amount, he said. Since becoming a commissioner, Simpson said he has tried to keep the government sustainable.

In interviews, both Simpson and UCPS Board of Education Chairman Richard Yercheck described what the schools and county were going through as a process. Mediation and the trial was a process.

“Appeal is a process that we’re afforded,” Simpson said. “And moving forward is a process.”

Instead of mulling over the trial or sending revised tax bills to residents, Simpson said he wants to begin talks with UCPS board members about the district’s needs and how they can be met. He asked that both boards meet jointly in late October to begin budget talks for the next fiscal year.

Commissioner Frank Aikmus moved to amend the budget to give UCPS another $5.3 million for capital needs.

“Mr. Bundy, based on that number, is that going to fix the leaking roofs?” Aikmus said.

It was enough to fix all the things UCPS cited as a need in its capital needs, but more needs were mentioned during the trial that would cost more than the requested amount, Bundy said.

“I would suggest that, if there are other roofs that are not contained in the capital outlay request for fiscal year ‘13-’14, that perhaps the board of education should come forward with a roofing evaluation and present it to this board and request some...” Bundy said, before being drowned out by the audience’s outcry.

He then said that the commissioners are ordered by state laws to scrutinize funding requests.

“There may be people here that do not like that, who think that we should accept a request on face value and fund it without scrutinizing it, but that’s not what state law requires,” Bundy said.

Aikmus amended his motion that the commissioners fund any additional roofing needs or ADA compliance issues that UCPS identifies.

Commissioner Richard Helms asked a question that caused the audience to react with scorn.

“It’s my understanding that funding that money doesn’t guarantee that’s how it’s going to be used. Is that correct?” Helms said.

Commissioners passed the motion unanimously.

Earlier in the meeting, 14 people spoke during public comments. But the most forceful came from UCPS Superintendent Mary Ellis.

“You five gentlemen, by word, action or deed, decided to withhold funding from our children,” Ellis said. “Then you refused to respond to the school system’s six-year capital improvement plan. Then you refused to respond to the school system’s reasonable offer in mediation. Then you refused every single day of the trial to respond to our offers to settle. And I know that because, unlike any of you in this room, I was in the trial every minute, every day of the trial.”

The county said it was best for the residents decide. They pushed for a jury trial, Ellis said. But when the verdict was announced, commissioners said they would not let 12 people decide the county’s fate.

“Stop the appeal. Stop the foolishness. Stop the spin,” Ellis said. “Pay the judgment. You do not have to raise my taxes or anybody’s taxes in Union County. And I want to let you know, I don’t speak for me. I speak for the children of the Union County Public Schools.”