MONROE – The Union County Board of Commissioners voted this week to offer Union County Public Schools around $11 million as a settlement to avoid paying the $91 million a jury recently awarded to the school system.
School board officials had not announced their intentions regarding the settlement offer by Union County Weekly’s press deadline Wednesday evening. The settlement offer comes on the heels of a Union County jury awarding the school system roughly $91 million following a lengthy debate, trial and then appeal over how much funding UCPS needs. Since then, county commissioners have argued the $91 million payment would cripple the county’s ability to do business and be able to handle any unseen future emergencies without having to raise taxes, while UCPS officials have argued that the county has enough money in savings to pay what the court has ordered.
“The $91 million demanded as a result of the lawsuit is simply not available,” county officials said in a news release announcing the settlement offer. “The majority of the county’s available funds are remaining water and sewer rates that have been put into savings over time. The county promised ratepayers that money would be used to fund treatment facilities, water towers and much needed water and sewer lines. Any additional cash in the Union County account has been committed and encumbered for critical projects, like the mandated medical records system, law enforcement facility renovations and the Human Services Campus, to serve our community’s most vulnerable.”
The $91 million – about $86 million of which would go to capital projects – would be used to reroof some schools, pay for things such as school heating bills and other projects that UCPS Board of Education Chairman Richard Yercheck recently said were only a small part of hundreds of millions of dollars of need.
“That (capital projects) money … I could spend $30 million tomorrow redoing roofs,” Yercheck said a few days after the jury’s decision. “And that doesn’t touch any of my (Americans with Disabilities Act) issues, any of my asbestos issues, any of my safety and security issues.”
The settlement offer, which the county said would expire on Friday, Dec. 6, if not accepted, reads as such:
• “The Union County Board of Commissioners would borrow ($9.4 million) and appropriate such amount to the capital outlay fund for fiscal year 2013-2014 to be used for roofs identified … during trial as being in need of repair or replacement. This sum would be in addition to the $5,357,859 that was appropriated” in October.
• The board would “appropriate $1,797,444 to the local current expense fund for fiscal year 2013-2014, which amount is sufficient for the Board of Education to provide to classroom teachers an average increase of $561 to the county’s current teacher supplement. This amount represents an increase of 18.77 percent in the average teacher supplement and raises Union County’s teacher supplement to the state average.”
• The board would ask the school board “to use the ‘true-up’ payment of an additional $761,451 appropriated to the local current expense fund on Nov. 18, 2013, to provide salary increases to non-classified employees.”
The settlement also would require both sides to pay for their own costs and expenses acquired in the lawsuit and trial.
UCPS and county leaders will soon sit down to start discussions about the 2014-15 fiscal year school budget.