Union County commissioners make surprise $3M offer to avoid school redistricting

02/03/2014 9:40 PM

02/04/2014 6:41 AM

Union County commissioners made a surprise offer Monday night to pay for mobile classrooms so the school district can avoid a controversial redistricting plan.

But it’s unclear whether the school board, which has frequently clashed with the commissioners, will take them up on the deal.

Commissioners unanimously voted to provide the school board with approximately $3 million to buy 49 mobile classrooms as an alternative to redistricting. The plan, which was detailed by commissioners Vice Chairman Jerry Simpson, was not on the original agenda.

Many people have been upset that the school board is considering countywide redistricting, a first for the district. It would involve about 5,800 of the district’s 41,800 students changing schools to deal with overcrowding – that’s 14 percent of the total population.

“The redistricting issue is tearing communities apart,” Simpson said, “and the proposal to provide funds for mobile classrooms is intended to keep communities and neighbors together while still protecting the taxpayers. We don’t need disruption of the lives of parents and children.”

Commissioners Chairman Frank Aikmus called the deal a short-term solution to buy the school board some time – possibly five years, based on what the school district has said – to figure out a long-term solution for overcrowding. He also renewed his call for a joint meeting between the two boards.

The funds for mobile classrooms would come from debt service savings and the county’s rainy day fund balance, Simpson said. The vote was met by a raucous standing ovation from many parents and others at the meeting.

A couple of municipalities also have gone on record as opposing redistricting, including Stallings and Wesley Chapel.

Using mobile classrooms was one of the alternatives to redistricting that school district officials had identified, Simpson said. School officials had expected to make a final decision on dealing with overcrowding by April.

The county would pay for the classrooms only if the two boards can agree on the plan, County Manager Cindy Coto said.

But the two boards have often been at odds over the past year on funding issues. And the county is continuing to appeal a jury verdict that awarded the district $91 million in a budget funding dispute.

School board Chairman Richard Yercheck could not be reached for comment Monday night. The school board’s next meeting is set for Tuesday night.

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