Union school board won’t fight county budget plan

Union County’s school board is not going to challenge its county budget allocation after all.

The school board got $15.5 million less than what it wanted in the county’s 2015-16 spending plan following the budget adoption by county commissioners last week.

The school board had seven days from that vote to start the process of challenging the funding levels. At a meeting Tuesday night, the first since the budget was approved, the school board discussed the unsettled status of the state budget and touched on some items that were cut by the county. But there was no formal move to challenge the overall funding.

The money separating the commissioners and school board this year was nearly double the $8 million that was in dispute in 2013 when the school board sued the county over the 2013-14 budget. That litigation, which dragged on for nearly two years, saw the school board win a stunning $91 million jury verdict before it was overturned by the N.C. Court of Appeals.

Legal fees between the two boards recently topped $2 million, an Observer review of public records shows, with the school board spending nearly $1.2 million through May and the county spending $827,492 through last month.

“The county needs to heal and we need to play our part,” school board chair John Collins said. He said he was not aware of anyone on his board who was interested in mediation or lawsuits this year.

The school board did make two unanimous funding requests of commissioners, however.

The school board is asking for $1.2 million in “emerging needs” funding for capital maintenance projects, such as fixing the air conditioning and replacing a boiler at Weddington High. Such funding had been cut from the overall budget.

And the school board is asking for $752,860 for driver's education funding, while saying they would return all of that money if it ultimately is provided by the state.

Overall, in the county budget, the school board wanted $104 million for operating expenses, a 20 percent increase. But commissioners gave them a 5 percent increase of $91.9 million.

For capital needs, the school district asked for nearly $20 million, a slight increase over the 2014-15 level. Commissioners authorized $16.6 million, with the majority of the funds going to roofing projects.

In addition to the funds in the budget, the school board is seeking nearly $158 million in a bond referendum for renovations, additions or new schools. Commissioners need to approve putting the referendum on the ballot, and the earliest it would go before voters is next year.

Bell: 704-358-5696;

Twitter: @abell