Tucker would change school funding process

Nov. 02, 2013 @ 04:47 PM

The recent lawsuit between Union County and the Union County Public Schools got Sen. Tommy Tucker thinking about ways to fix the often contentious school budget process.

Under current rules, school boards present their capital needs to county commissioners who then appropriate local money for building or maintaining school buildings.

The Union County Board of Commissioners and the UCPS Board of Education were involved in an often heated disagreement over the amount of capital appropriations for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. State law says both sides must enter mediation before a lawsuit is filed. After a month in mediation, the two governing boards reached an impasse and UCPS filed a lawsuit.

After a nine-week trial, a jury ruled the county give schools $91 million, more than ten times the amount school officials asked for during budget talks earlier this year.

Soon after, county officials stated they did not have enough in the general fund to pay the awarded amount and moved to appeal the decision.

The court battle between two groups that serve the same population only hurt taxpayers, Tucker said.  

“I said I would explore the possibility of working with the N.C. Board of Education and the N.C. Association of County Commissioners to come up with a solution for education funding disputes that wouldn’t involve so much time and wasted resources,” Tucker said.

Since the N.C. General Assembly set rules for how counties and school districts interact with each other about school funding, the NCGA should be responsible for fixing problems with those rules, he said. He proposed creating a panel of judges, perhaps with members of the state school board and the state county commission association, to work with the feuding sides to reach an agreement.

While he has not yet done legal research to flesh out his idea, Tucker said he hopes to introduce a bill once he has considered more options.

“I hope to have something to present early next year, if the Senate leadership deems that it’s not too controversial for the short session,” he said.