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Settlement offered in Union County budget battle

Union County schools has made a settlement offer to county leaders in their mediation over the county’s school system funding, but it’s far from certain the two sides can avoid a court battle to resolve the dispute.

If no settlement is reached by Aug. 1, or if it does not appear one is close, the mediator would declare an impasse and the school district could sue the county over its funding allocation.

The school board sought mediation in mid-June after county commissioners approved their $298 million 2013-14 budget.

The district was to receive an allocation of $82.3 million in general operating funds, or about $2.7 million less than it sought. And instead of getting another $8.4 million in capital funds, the county approved a plan for $9 million spread over three years.

The county has said it would need to cut services or raise taxes to provide more money to the district.

Without going into specifics, school board Chairman Richard Yercheck called the settlement offer a creative, long-term plan that also satisfied a county goal of seeing school district financial planning over a number of years.

County Manager Cindy Coto declined to discuss the offer.

Yercheck said the next mediation session between representatives of the two sides and mediator Andy Little is set for Wednesday, about a week before the Aug. 1 deadline. Yercheck said he did not expect to get a response to the settlement offer, made a couple of weeks ago, until next week’s mediation session.

Asked whether he thought the dispute would wind up in court next month, Yercheck said, “You’ve got a roomful of motivated and creative people who would like to see this put to bed.”

Yet tensions continue to simmer.

After mediation began, the county sued the school district for financial records it said it had not received but put the lawsuit on hold when it received the initial documentation.

Coto said that the district’s recent response to their financial data request, which resulted in more than 25,000 pages of documents in seven boxes, did not provide any usable data. On July 11, Coto asked Superintendent Mary Ellis to provide additional records the county needs to engage in mediation.

On Friday, Coto said the county is poring over the latest batch of records supplied by the district, and she did not think the county needed to reinstate its lawsuit over the documents.

Bell: 704-358-5696; Twitter: @abell
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