School board strikes back

Jun. 18, 2013 @ 06:35 PM

The Union County Board of Education voted Tuesday morning to begin mediation proceedings with Union County regarding the 2013-2014 budget. 

The vote was 7-2, with Christina Helms and Michael Guzman opposing the resolution. 

The resolution stated that the amounts of money appropriated by the Union County Board of Commissioners are not sufficient to support a free public school system. 

The resolution cited state statute 115C-431, which outlines the procedure to resolve a dispute between the two boards. 

It is the first time the boards have gone into mediation since 2007.

School Board member Kevin Stewart said the board was offering compromises to the commissioners as late as 7 p.m. Monday night. He said they were “summarily dismissed.”

He said the mediation was a tool to assure education in the county. 

“We basically weren’t part of the process and...we were more than willing to compromise,” Stewart said. 

Helms, who voted against the motion, said that she supported Union County Public Schools “100 percent” and would like them to receive needed funding.

“It leaves a very bad taste in my mouth” to sue Union County, she said. “That’s a hard pill to swallow.”

Helms said she had hoped that the board could have gotten more for their budget. 

“This has been a very hard process,” she said. “I really hate that we had to travel down this road.”

Guzman, who also opposed the measure, called the process divisive. He said he is completely behind Superintendent Mary Ellis’ vision for the school system and hopes to fund it. 

Board member Rick Pigg said he did not feel that the mediation was suing the county or raising taxes. He said he saw it as a way to get independent counsel to evaluate the situation and make sure the school system got a “fair share.”

Union County Finance Director Jeff Yates attended the meeting. He said he had no comment on the board’s action.

Ellis said that as a lifelong Union County resident, “I’m sad we’re where we are today.”

However, she added, she has given her whole adult life to education and will continue to work for children. 

Ellis said she serves at the pleasure of the board and supports their decision.

Board chairman Richard Yercheck said in an interview that he hopes the mediation will allow for an honest evaluation. 

“What I hope is that we will bring an outside party in and that person will evaluate without bias what we’re bringing to the table because that will be the first time that what we’ve brought to the table will be honestly evaluated,” Yercheck said.

He said they have been “stonewalled” in their dealings with the commissioners.

“Really since (the) March (and) April timeframe, there’s been no negotiation, no nothing, we were just handed stuff,” Yercheck said.