Local News

Decision on Civil Penalties Fines to Schools Months Away

Posted February 29, 2008 10:55 a.m. EST
Updated February 29, 2008 2:20 p.m. EST

— It could be at least six months before a Superior Court judge rules how to distribute more than $90 million in state revenue from civil penalties that was supposed to go to schools.

Judge Howard Manning said Friday he expects several more hearings on the matter and that a decision will be "no time soon."

That estimated $91 million is part of more than $700 million that state lawmakers have to find a way to pay to schools, who were supposed to receive fines collected from tax penalties, parking tickets at state universities, vehicle fines and other sources.

In December, Manning ruled fines from September 1997 to July 2005 – approximately $660 million – should go to the state's Civil Fines and Forfeitures Fund, which would then allocate the money to the state's school districts for technology.

Still at issue, is how to distribute revenue collected during a 20-month period prior to 1997, before the state created the Civil Fines and Forfeiture Funds.

The North Carolina School Boards Association, a plaintiff in the 1998 lawsuit, wants the amount in question to go into the fund to be distributed to school districts across the state.

The state attorney general's office contends the revenue should go only to the six local school districts – including Durham, Wake and Johnston counties – also listed as plaintiffs.

That portion, the state says, should only go to the county if the civil violation occurred there. Money from violations in other counties should not be distributed.

Also at issue is whether the $91 million should be designated for school technology – none of which was in place at the time the penalties were collected from January 1996 to September 1997.

The estimated $660 that is in the Civil Fines and Forfeiture Fund will be distributed based on the average number of students in a district.

The state does not have to pay the money at once, Manning has said. Lawmakers will have to decide how to come up with the funding when they return to the Legislature in May.

"We're just going to have to build it into the budget. We're going to have to cut out some earmarks," Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, said in December.