UNION COUNTY, N.C. -- The long contentious battle over school funding is over.
Thursday, a jury decided in favor of Union County Public Schools, which sued the Board of Commissioners on ground it was not adequately funding the needs of students.
Closing arguments in the two-month long trial were heard on Tuesday. Both sides tried resolving the $8 million budget gap though mediation over the summer.
Both sides headed to court, when it was clear an agreement could not be reached. The district blamed the county’s mismanagement of funds. The county argued funding could not be met unless there was a cut to services or tax increases.
Superintendent Dr. Mary Ellis expressed elation over the jury’s decision, saying she feels the district has been vindicated.
"We have done nothing wrong. As a lifelong resident, I'm concerned about being good stewards of the taxpayer dollar. I look forward to going back and working with the county commission to make this happen because it is all about the children. We need to do what is right for the children," she said.
The Union County Schools posted details of the verdict on its social media site. Details below.
Court Case Verdict
A jury of 12 Union County citizens issued a unanimous verdict in favor of the Union County Board of Education today in the school system’s lawsuit seeking additional funding from the Union County Board of Commissioners. Based on the testimony and evidence presented over the last eight weeks, the jury’s verdict, and the Judgment of Judge W. Erwin Spainhour awarded the school system $4,973,134 in additional current expense funds and an additional $86,184,005 more than the Commissioners had provided to meet capital outlay needs.
During the lengthy trial, jurors heard testimony about leaking school roofs, unmet safety and security needs, unmet ADA (Americans with Disability Act) needs, and technology needs. The evidence showed unmet needs dating back years that have led to deteriorating conditions in many school facilities.
The Board of County Commissioners originally allocated $3,000,000 of the approximately $8,300,000 requested by the school system in the area of capital needs. The County Commissioners also allocated only $82,000,000 of the $86,000,000 requested in the Continuing Budget.
While testifying, Superintendent Dr. Mary Ellis said, "I believe that everything requested represents a need, a need for children who don't have a voice. The children depend on us to speak for them. I am not asking for extravagant things. I am asking for children to not have to attend schools with leaky roofs and for children in wheelchairs to be able to get into buildings. This is about children."
School System Attorney Richard Schwartz told the jury that during the time the trial was going on, 500 babies were born in Union County. He said that those 500 little ones would be part of the Class of 2030. The jury’s actions, he said, would impact their future and the future of the approximately 42,000 students currently enrolled in the school system.
“As a lifelong resident of Union County and as a 35-year veteran of the Union County School system, I had hoped that we would not wind up in court. We worked hard in mediation and before to avoid this. Every single day during the trial our attorneys asked their attorneys if they would consider a settlement. We tried to avoid the cost and expense of a trial. I am grateful for the twelve members of the jury who ruled in favor of our children. I pledge that we will use every dollar awarded to do all that we can to fulfill our mission to “Prepare ALL students to succeed.”