Attorney hopes high court will settle county/school board relationships

Published 5:33 pm Monday, April 14, 2008

By Staff
Court agrees to hear case on same day it denies Dell review
Staff Writer
North Carolina’s Supreme Court agreed Friday to review lower court decisions in a lawsuit involving the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners and the county’s school board — the same day it declined to review the case questioning the constitutionality of an incentive package that brought Dell Computers to the state.
That context excites Neil Yarborough, a Fayetteville attorney representing the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners. Attorneys Brian C. Shaw and Richard Schwartz represented the school board in the case.
He is confident the high court has chosen to consider the case based on the argument that he and commissioners have been making since the suit was brought two years ago.
The high court’s order granting the review was issued Thursday. The county was notified Friday. The order asks the question: “Is the statutory framework for resolving school funding disputes between the county board of education and the county board of commissioners constitutional?”
In July 2006, the school board took the county to court on the basis that their appropriated funds were not adequate to run county schools for the next fiscal year.
A jury subsequently awarded the school board $765,783, upping its local appropriation for the fiscal year from $9.4 million to $10.2 million. The county appealed the case.
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. In February, the Court of Appeals issued a ruling upholding the jury’s decision.
Yarborough argued Sunday that in 2006 the school board was asking the county to fund a shortfall in state funding — something he contends the county is not constitutionally obligated to do. In settling that issue, Yarborough said the high court could “alleviate uncertainty across the state,” regarding the funding relationship between county governments and local school boards.
County governments are required to adequately fund certain school system needs, such as money for building and maintaining schools. Counties can go above and beyond their funding obligations and appropriate money for things like teacher subsidies, but are not required by law to do so, Yarborough said.
The Supreme Court case, which probably will not be deliberated for a matter of months, will determine if counties are legally required to fund school-board requests beyond those “certain, specific” things the law requires counties to pay for, he said. At least in the case involving the Beaufort County boards, Yarborough and the commissioners contend it was not their obligation, but the state’s.