County wants to control all school buildings

Mar. 18, 2014 @ 05:13 PM

The Union County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved asking its legislative representatives to introduce a local bill giving the county responsibility over building and maintaining facilities owned by Union County Public Schools.

County Manager Cindy Coto said similar bill was introduced into the N.C. General Assembly last March, passed the Senate but not by the House. That bill only applied to eight counties scattered around the state, but not Union County.

But the county staff recommends commissioners ask for a new bill during the legislative short session that would do the same for UCPS.

The county used the same bill introduced last year as an example. If passed in its current form, it would give Union County the authority by resolution to build, improve, own and purchase public school property. Current state law makes county governments responsible for funding public school capital projects but the authority to do the projects belongs to individual school districts.

The change would give county commissions full authority to make decisions about school facilities, including buying land for new schools, renovating old schools, equipping schools and any other needed facility repair or expansion.

The bill would also grant the county authority to own and maintain the school’s administrative building, which it would construct or expand after consultation with the school board.

“A county may by resolution provide that any interest in real property or school capital funds presently held by the board of education shall vest in the county,” the county’s draft bill states.

The county would pay for all fees to transfer school property over to its ownership and the cost insure school property. With assumption of authority over all UCPS capital projects, the county would also take on all associated costs including maintence workers, studies, reports, fees, support facilities and any other cost arising from ownership of school facilities.

The county would not be liable for UCPS or facilities built or modified by the school board in the past.

School property owned by the county would be used only for school purposes. Any money held by the school board that is restricted for use on capital needs would be transfered to the county for the same purpose.

“For school property affected by a resolution entered pursuant to this section, the board of education shall continue to have the exclusive authority to determine whether and when such school property is unnecessary or undesirable for public school purposes, in which event the board of education shall so inform the county board of commissioners,” the draft bill states. “The county will then either (i) dispose of the property and use the proceeds to reduce the county’s bonded indebtedness for schools or for school capital outlay purposes or (ii) use the property for nonschool purposes and use an amount negotiated by the two boards as the fair market value of the property to reduce the county’s bonded indebtedness for schools or for school capital outlay purposes.”

The bill would give the county authority over most real property - playgrounds, athletic fields, garages, furniture and furnishings, instructional apparatus, school buses, staff vehicles, and business machines. The bill would require commissioners and school board members agree on the need and scope of contracts before they are executed or money is spent.

“Appropriations in the capital outlay fund shall be funded by revenues made available for capital outlay purposes by the State Board of Education and the board of county commissioners, supplemental taxes levied by or on behald of the local school administrative unit pursuant to a local act..., the proceeds of the sale of capital assets, the proceeds of claims against fire and casualty insurance policies, and other sources,” the draft bill states.

The bill also changes how funding disputes are resolved. The school board would continue to provide the county a list of capital needs. The commissioners would fund the projects based on what they determine are “necessary for providing adequate provisions for the public school term.”

If a school is over its student capacity, the bill gives the county the authority to buy mobile classroom units to add capacity. In the case of a dispute, the two boards would resolve it in mediation.

“If a county has assumed ownership of school property...the local board of  education shall permit the use of that property by nonschool groups only as authorized by the county commissioners,” the draft bill states.