County waits on appeal to decide schools funding dispute

Published 9:43 am Friday, June 29, 2007

By Staff
Leaders won’t challenge one verdict, but fix eyes on Raleigh
News Editor
Beaufort County commissioners voted 4-2 Thursday not to take the school board back to court over a $412,457 judgment from December, deciding instead to let that funding dispute be considered during the appellate case in August.
The decision came after a 1.5 hour closed session, during which commissioners had a teleconference with Neil Yarborough, the Wilmington attorney who represents the county in its litigation against the school board. But it didn’t come without lengthy discussion.
In July 2006, the school board sued the county, seeking additional money for the fiscal year that ends this week. A jury awarded the Beaufort County Board of Education $765,783, upping its local appropriation for the fiscal year from $9.4 million to $10.2 million. The county is appealing that decision and the case is set for an appellate court in Raleigh on Aug. 23.
But the board of education contended it could not operate the schools this fiscal year without most of that jury-awarded money in hand, and sought interim relief in December 2006. Judge William Griffin agreed the board of education was entitled to $412,457, but said he would reconsider that figure if the county wanted him to after the school system had made its budget amendments for the fiscal year.
The bulk of that figure is based on $289,159 in adjustments made to the school system’s local current expense fund since the December verdict. The school board approved those increases on June 18.
Deatherage said commissioners have a “fiduciary responsibility” to take the school board back to court.
But the majority of board felt it best to wait for the appellate court to render its findings on the original July verdict instead of contesting the December decision.
Commissioner Al Klemm, who was not on the county board when the funding dispute began, said he believes “relations are slowly starting to improve” between the two bodies that spent time last summer locked in litigation.
Reached in Wilmington, Yarborough said commissioners’ had to decide if this is a “fight they want to fight right now.”
Commissioners’ Chairman Jay McRoy said the appeals court would look not only at the jury-awarded amount from July 2006, but also the “legal issues” surrounding the case.