School Leaders Concerned About Civil Penalties' Funding
Posted December 14, 2007 6:42 p.m. EST
Updated December 14, 2007 8:27 p.m. EST
Smithfield, N.C. — Johnston County school officials are concerned about the possible impact on the school system of a judge's decision concerning more than $700 million in revenue from civil penalties.
The Johnston County Schools are one the six original plaintiffs that sued the state for the fines, which were collected over a nine-year period.
On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Howard Manning decided the state owes school districts throughout the state an estimated $768 million. Most, if not all, of that revenue will go to technology needs.
Manning is expected to issue a written order sometime in the first part of 2008 detailing how the payments should be made. Although the final amount would be paid over several years, it will require lawmakers and state agencies to pay at least $600 million, according to data provided by state agencies.
"Will this money supplant current funding? And that is a real serious concern for us," Johnston County Schools Superintendent Dr. Anthony Parker said.
Supporters hope the decision will bring extra money for schools, not just replace a piece of current budgets.
Another concern officials have is how the money has to be spent.
Manning told attorneys for the state and school boards that all of the money accumulated from late 1997 onward, minus the cost of collecting the penalties, should go to the state's civil penalties fund. That money has been earmarked for schools' technology needs.
"We believe the district should make that decision as far as where the funds would be needed and how we'd use the funds," Parker said.
Parker and school board Chairman Kay Carroll said some school districts have more pressing needs than technology.
"I would hope there would be some latitude given in letting boards of education solve their particular problems, whatever they might be," Carroll said.
Johnston County public schools already have at least one computer in every classroom. For these schools, technology is a priority, and they hope to upgrade and expand the tools used.
"And certainly, additional funding would certainly be helpful in looking at that," Carroll said.