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Appeals court upholds school-funding verdict

By Staff
Commissioners could take case to N.C. Supreme Court
By DAN PARSONS
Staff Writer
The North Carolina Court of Appeals on Tuesday filed a ruling that upholds a jury’s decision to grant the Beaufort County Board of Education $10.2 million for operating its schools during the 2006-2007 school year.
In July 2006, the school board took the county to court on the basis that the school system’s funding from the county was not adequate to run county schools for the 2006-2007 school year.
A jury subsequently awarded the school board an additional $765,783, upping the school system’s local appropriation for that school year from $9.4 million to $10.2 million. The county appealed the case.
N.C. Court of Appeals justices Sanford L. Steelman and Rick Elmore concurred with Stroud’s assessment of the case.
Though the fiscal year in question ended June 30 of 2007, Moss said there remains a little more than $353,000 due the school system from the county.
The appeal was entered Aug. 9, 2006, by Judge William C. Griffin Jr. in Beaufort County Superior Court. It was heard by the Court of Appeals on Aug. 23, 2007.
Attorneys Brian C. Shaw and Richard Schwartz represented the school board in the case. Attorney Neil Yarborough represented the board of commissioners.
Yarborough declined to comment further because he had not talked with commissioners about whether they wished to file a writ of discretionary review with the state Supreme Court. Spruill said commissioners would discuss the option of petitioning the Supreme Court with Yarborough during the next five to six weeks.
In October, Spruill estimated the county had spent $90,000 on litigation stemming from the lawsuit. He estimated the school board had spent $160,000 on attorney fees.
If commissioners decide not to file a writ with the state Supreme Court, they won’t face the school board in court over school-related funding for at least the next two years. In February 2007, the two boards entered into an agreement that bars the two bodies from suing each other over school-related funding for four years.
That agreement calls for the school board to relinquish funds it receives from state-lottery proceeds to the county until 2012. In exchange, the county will release bond-sale revenues to help build the new John Small Elementary School. After the 2010-2011 budget year, lottery proceeds will return to the school system to be used for its capital projects.
As part of the deal, the school board will receive a 5-percent increase — about $300,000 — in county dollars each year for the next four years.
School leaders must still present proposed budgets for the school system to commissioners, as usual, before the beginning of each budget year. If the school system later deviates from its spending plans, those budget requests must go to commissioners for their approval.