Commissioners looking for rapprochement from school board|Lawyer: Commissioners ‘tryingto seek peace in the valley’

Published 12:16 am Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Staff Writer

Following the dismissal by the Beaufort County Board of Education of a lawsuit against the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners earlier this month, the lawyer for the county commissioners said Monday night that the commissioners “are trying to seek peace in the valley” and would not pursue a refund of some $412,000 it paid the school board even though the county is entitled to do so.
But, the county commissioners are looking for some sign from the school board that they are willing to cooperate with county leaders before rejecting the idea of seeking a refund, said G. Neil Yarborough, lawyer for the county commissioners.
“At the end of the day, the county commissioners are trying to seek peace in the valley if they get a sense that the Board of Education is equally committed to rapprochement,” Yarborough said. “I think the board of commissioners will recognize (rapprochement) when they see it.” Yarborough made the comments in a statement to reporters after meeting in a closed-door session with the county board.
Yarborough said that the county commissioners are entitled to seek a refund from the schools of the $412,456.51 they were ordered to pay by Superior Court Judge William C. Griffin Jr. as a result of the jury verdict awarding the school board an additional $756,783 for the 2006-07 school year.
“It is very clear that we’re entitled to restitution,” he said, adding that the county commissioners “haven’t voted to do it and haven’t voted not to do it.”
The commissioners had asked Yarborough to meet with them to discuss their options following the rejection earlier this month by the state’s high court of a petition filed by the school board and subsequent action by that board asking for a dismissal of the case in Superior Court. The motion for dismissal was filed October 9.
Some county leaders said in interviews after the meeting Monday that they would like the school board to enter into a written agreement with the county commissioners that would prohibit legal action in the future. And, they said, they would like the school board to adopt such an agreement before a new superintendent of schools is hired.
“We are looking for a formal agreement,” said Commissioner Hood Richardson. “And we do want the reaffirmation done before the new superintendent is hired.”
In July 2006, the school board took the county to court, arguing that the school system’s funding from the county was not adequate to properly run county schools for the 2006-2007 school year. A jury subsequently awarded the school board an additional $756,783 for the year. Griffin ordered the county to pay the school board $412,456 of that jury award while the case made its way through the appeals process.
In August, the N.C. Supreme Court reversed a decision by the N.C. Court of Appeals regarding the lawsuit and remanded the case to Beaufort County Superior Court. The high court determined that instructions to the jury were flawed in Griffin’s definition of the word “needed” as it relates to appropriations needed to operate a public school system in Beaufort County. Griffin has since retired.
Earlier this month, lawyers for the school board filed a petition asking the N.C. Supreme Court to reconsider its opinion. In the petition, the school board sought an expanded definition of the word “needed” rather than the restricted definition as defined in the court’s ruling. But the high court rejected the petition.