UNION COUNTY, N.C. -- Union County officials took the unusual step Wednesday of suing the local school board to force it to turn over financial records the county wants to see while the two sides are locked in mediation over a budget funding dispute.
County officials said the documents are critical for them to be able to participate in mediation in a meaningful way, and that the school board already has let a week go by without providing the records.
A school board lawyer called the lawsuit “total nonsense.”
School board members, unhappy with the amount of money the county allocated to them for the 2013-14 fiscal year, voted last week to bring in a mediator to help settle the issue. It’s the fourth time the district has sought mediation since 1998, more than any other school district in the state during that time.
Union County commissioners say they would need to raise taxes or cut services to provide more money. The school district stood to receive about $7 million to $8 million less than it had sought in general operating and capital expenses from the county.
If no agreement is reached in mediation, the school district could sue the county to try to resolve the issue. The records the county requested are critical for both mediation and in a potential court case if mediation fails, the county said in its lawsuit.
County Manager Cindy Coto said it was unfortunate the county was placed in the position of having to sue to get the critical documents.
School officials referred comment to their outside counsel, Raleigh attorney Richard Schwartz.
Schwartz said of the lawsuit: “This is nothing other than peripheral noise. It’s a distraction and completely unnecessary.”
He said he was unaware of a similar lawsuit in his 34 years in education law.
Schwartz said the district was already preparing to turn over the many documents that the county had requested, probably in a matter of days.
The county asked a Superior Court judge to order the district to turn over all “books, records, audit reports and other information bearing on the (district’s) financial operation.”