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Union County school board seeks mediation over budget dispute

MONROE The Union County school board, unhappy with the amount of money it got from county commissioners in the new budget, voted 7-2 on Tuesday to seek mediation to try to resolve the dispute.

If mediation fails, the district could sue the county.

This is the fourth time the district has sought mediation since 1998. No other district has used the process that many times, according to data from the University of North Carolina School of Government.

On Monday night, county commissioners unanimously approved their $298 million operating and capital budget for 2013-14.

In that budget, the district is set to receive $82.3 million in general operating funds, or about $2.7 million less than it had wanted. The $82.3 million represents a nearly 2 percent increase over the current year’s schools funding.

Commissioners said they would need to raise taxes or cut services to provide more money to the district.

“Your county commissioners are protecting (taxpayers) from a tax-and-spend school board,” commissioner Frank Aikmus said Monday. “(And) I applaud teachers who work in an environment where your administration sees everything but you as a priority.”

“We are not telling them to raise taxes,” school board member Rick Pigg said. He said the board wants an unbiased mediator to help the district get its fair share from the budget process.

School board member Christina Helms, who voted against mediation along with Michael Guzman, said, “It leaves a very bad taste in my mouth to sue Union County taxpayers. … We can’t take money that they don’t have.”

A joint meeting between the two boards needs to be held by Monday as part of the mediation process.

About one to three school districts a year seek mediation, according to John Stephens, an expert on public policy dispute resolution at the UNC School of Government.

A bill was introduced in Raleigh this year to essentially bar school districts from being able to seek mediation over budget allocations. That plan has gone nowhere, said Todd McGee of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.

Bell: 704-358-5696
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