UCPS rejects county's $3 million for trailers

Feb. 20, 2014 @ 02:34 PM

The Union County Board of Education voted unanimously to reject funding for additional mobile classroom units. 

UCPS school board attorney Richard Schwartz explained that the $3 million offered by the Union County Board of Commissioners Feb. 3 to relieve overcrowding and stave off redistricting would be credited against the $91 million verdict awarded to the schools over the summer.

Schwartz read the letter from Commission Chairman Frank Aikmus about the offer. He said the letter's last paragraph left him with a few questions he wanted answers to. 

"If this is agreeable to the Board of Education, we would propose that our understanding be reduced to a written agreement similar to that currently under development for additional roofing appropriations," the letter read. 

Schwartz explained that the roofing needs were discussed in the trial as an urgent need and reason for filing suit against the county. The jury awarded the $91 million based on those needs. Receiving offered roof repair money and crediting the amount against the jury verdict was under consideration.

However, Schwartz was uncertain if it is appropriate to credit money for additional trailers against the jury verdict because it was not part of the court case. When Schwartz asked county officials to clarify, they county confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the $3 million would be credited toward the jury verdict.

Schwartz said he was concerned that would off-set the needs presented to the jury.

School board member Sherry Hodges clarified that the proposal would take the money from the verdict and "something else wouldn't get fixed" because of the mobile classroom units. Schwartz said the clarification was correct. 

The county released a statement Tuesday night not long after the school board's vote. It stated there were no strings attached to the offer except that the money had to be used to purchase mobile classrooms.

School board member John Collins "reluctantly" made the motion to reject the offer as it stands, which passed unanimously. 

"I have a hard time with this," UCPS Chairman Richard Yercheck said. 

He apologized to the room full of parents for anticipating they would accept the offer with no strings attached. He said he was not willing to "disrespect" the jury verdict or the students. 

"I just don't think this $3 million was given in good faith," Yercheck said. "I'm a bit heartsick that I always have to question" what comes from other public officials. 

Yercheck added that based on his understanding of Schwartz and Hodges, he could not vote yes, but would do what the board wanted. 

Collins and board member Mike Guzman agreed with Yercheck. 

The county released a statement responding to the school board's rejection and denying their assertion of the stipulations.  

"The offer of the $3 million is to provide a short-term solution to redistricting to provide more time for the Board of Education to consider other alternatives," the statement read. "The Board of County Commissioners made the offer with no strings attached other than the funds would be used to purchase mobile classrooms."

"As Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Jerry Simpson said at the time of the offer, 'the redistricting issue is tearing communities apart, and the proposal to provide funds for mobile classrooms is intended to keep communities and neighbors together while still protecting the taxpayers of Union County,'" the statement continued.