School board rejects offer

Oct. 31, 2013 @ 05:09 PM

A settlement offer for an additional $9.4 million in capital outlay was unanimously rejected by the Union County Board of Education Tuesday night following a closed session meeting. 

As detailed in a letter last week from Board of County Commissioners Attorney Ligon Bundy to Board of Education Attorney Richard Schwartz, the offer included $9.4 million in capital outlay and $450,000 in legal fees arising out of the budget dispute.

The letter said the board of education would have to provide all billing records and would be responsible for any fees beyond $450,000. According to Union County Public Schools Spokesperson Rob Jackson, the school’s legal fees have so far exceeded $525,000 for mediation, lawsuits and the trial. 

Beyond the $450,000, each would bear its own costs and expense of the litigation, according to the settlement offer.

The offered appropriation is restricted for replacing roofs on Board of Education facilities.

“In lieu of the funds that the court ordered be appropriated in the Order of October 10, 2013, the Union County Board of County Commissioners would appropriate an additional ($9.4 million) in capital outlay for the fiscal year 2013-2014,” the letter read. “This sum is in addition to the ($5.4 million) that was appropriated by the County Commissioners at the meeting that occurred on October 21, 2013.”  

The letter says that while the funds would be appropriated and available immediately, it is anticipated that the board of education would need time to fully evaluate its roofing needs and the funds would be paid by the county as invoices are presented by the board of education. This is consistent with the payment of previous board of educations projects, the letter reads. 

“Before funds could be drawn for a roofing project, the board of education would provide current roofing evaluations (less than 30 days old) prepared by a qualified roofing consultant, stating that the roof for that project is not under warrants and that it is in need of replacement,” Bundy wrote in the letter. 

The offer was unanimously rejected by the board of education Tuesday night following a two-hour closed session meeting. 

“Nobody felt it was a good faith offer,” Board Chairman Richard Yercheck said. “It came with all kinds of strings ... we just didn’t think that was the best offer that they could come up with to deal with everything that’s been going on.” 

Union County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jerry Simpson said they will meet in closed session Monday afternoon to consult with their attorney and discuss the next step. 

He said the settlement offer was constructed in closed sessions with input from staff and from legal counsel. 

“It’s within our right to make an offer to move toward settlement and it’s in their right to reject it,” Simpson said. 

He said they filed an appeal to continue the process and will see what happens next. 

According to the U.S. Courts website, in order to appeal in a civil trial, the party must show that the trial court or administrative agency made a legal error that affected the decision in the case.

The court of appeals, a panel of three judges, makes its decision based on the record of the case established by the trial court or agency. It does not receive additional evidence or hear witnesses. The court of appeals also may review the factual findings of the trial court or agency, but typically may only overturn a decision on factual grounds if the findings were “clearly erroneous,” according to the website. 

Simpson said there were a number of legal errors, which will be a part of the appeals process. He said one of the primary errors deals with the statute that allows the board of education to sue the county commissioners. The statute, he said, deals only with the fiscal year in dispute. Previous budgets were discussed and presented in court. Which, Simpson said, increased the award “above and beyond” the disputed amount for the 2014 budget. 

He said he is not an attorney and cannot speak to the errors, but that is one he is aware of.