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NC Court Of Appeals Sides With Union County In Budget Dispute With Schools

Jimmy Wayne

Union County no longer has to pay its school system $91 million. In 2013, that’s what a jury said the county owed the district for years of under funding. The North Carolina Court of Appeals Tuesday granted a new trial. 

The court case started off as a dispute over $8 million. Union County’s school board said the district needed that much more in last year’s budget to properly operate. But the argument changed when it went to trial. 

“We presented the actual needs rather than what the board of education thought the commissioners might be willing to actually fund,” said attorney Richard Schwartz who represents the school board.

He spoke shortly after that $91 million verdict. 

The district showed the jury studies of all the building projects that went unfunded since 2008. And that’s where the North Carolina Court of Appeals says the court erred. The three-judge panel said the trial was over the county’s proposed budget for 2013-14, not over any other years. Therefore, the judge should not have allowed that evidence and the jury should not have awarded the school system such a huge amount above its initial request. 

That request is almost paid up.  

“The only thing that’s on the table to be resolved is a little bit less than $3 million in current expense and the capital has been fully funded,” says attorney Ligon Bundy who represents the Union County Commission. 

On top of that, the county paid $9.5 million to repair leaking roofs and provided more capital funding than expected in this year’s budget. Schwartz, the school board’s attorney, credits the litigation.

“The trial demonstrated very clearly that the needs are there and the commissioners have stepped up and are funding it a lot better,” says Schwartz.    

The school board could ask the North Carolina Supreme Court to review the case.  Both sides could try to settle or embark on another trial.

County Commission Chairman Richard Helms hopes they can avoid that, especially since the county alone has already spent $802,932 on the case.

Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.