Tensions flare again between Union County boards

03/19/2014 4:23 PM

03/20/2014 6:44 AM

Union County school board members and commissioners are fighting again, this time over who controls school property, construction and maintenance.

Commissioners unanimously approved a request this week asking local lawmakers for a bill granting them that power over school property. They said the move provides more accountability because one entity would be responsible for all aspects of school buildings, instead of the county funding the schools and the school board controlling construction and upkeep.

The legislature dealt with a similar plan for several other counties last year, commissioners noted, but it did not make it through the legislative session.

School board Chairman Richard Yercheck, in a sharply worded letter to commissioners Chairman Frank Aikmus, questioned the county’s motives, timing and abilities.

Citing problems with the county’s Department of Social Services, Yercheck wrote, “Union County has enough problems managing its own operations. The county should get its own house in order before trying to take over Board of Education functions.”

The timing of the commissioners’ vote over who would control school property also could be awkward for the two boards, which expect to meet next week over upcoming budget funding work for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

The two boards have been at odds for a while now.

Last year, the school board successfully sued the county to get additional budget funding, and was awarded $91 million by a county jury. That case remains under appeal.

The joint meeting was seen as a way to start mending fences.

But Yercheck said “the timing could not have been planned any better to sabotage the intended purpose for our joint meeting.” He called the plan a back door attempt to evade the jury verdict.

In an interview Wednesday, however, Yercheck said he did not think the meeting needed to be canceled.

Commissioner Todd Johnson defended the plan at the Monday meeting where it was approved. He denied that the board was doing any type of power grab.

Rather, he said commissioners are trying to help parents by providing a single group to deal with that would be responsible for all aspects of school funding, building and maintenance.

“That’s what parents need,” Johnson said. “They need accountability and they need to be able to go to one spot.”

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