Lawmakers to consider taking away school boards' power to sue for more funding

Posted April 13, 2017 7:15 p.m. EDT


— Legislators will meet next week to consider bills that would strip local school boards' of their right to sue county commissioners for more education funding.

In North Carolina, local school boards don't have taxing authority. So, every year, they must trek to county commissioners to request the funds needed in their budgets. Under current law, when school boards and county commissioners don't see eye-to-eye on how much the school system should get, school boards can sue county commissioners for more money.

Republicans have filed bills in both the House and the Senate to take away school boards' right to do sue, saying the legal battles they create are expensive. According to the UNC School of Government, since 2009, there have been four disputes between school boards and county commissioners that went beyond mediation and were decided in the courts. The most recent was a two-year battle between the school board and county commissioners in Union County.

The House bill is sponsored by Rep. Debra Conrad, a Republican from Forsyth County and a former Forsyth county commissioner. Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Union County Republican, filed a companion bill in the Senate. A similar measure from Tucker passed in the Senate in 2015. When the measure came to the House, lawmakers rejected an outright change, and instead opted for a study of the mediation process.

The North Carolina School Boards Association (NCSBA) opposes the revived bill to strip boards' right to sue, saying it would take away school boards' bargaining power in funding disputes.

"Whatever the county commissioners' final word is, that's it. They have the final say. So why would they even come to the table and adjust their position?" said Bruce Mildwurf, the NCSBA's associate director of governmental relations.

Mildwurf notes the legislative study on the bargaining process is still in the works.

"We're just awaiting the findings and results, and to have this bill come up now, we feel is premature," he said.

A House state and local government committee plans to discuss the bill next Wednesday, the first day lawmakers return after the Easter break.

This report first appeared on WUNC/North Carolina Public Radio as part of its education coverage. Jess Clark is the Fletcher Fellow focused on education policy reporting. The Fletcher Fellowship is a partnership between WUNC and UNC’s School of Media and Journalism funded in part by the Fletcher Foundation. Articles produced by the Fletcher Fellow are considered to be "open content” that others can republish with permission.