Local News

Judge: State owes schools $748M in civil fines

Posted August 12, 2008 11:41 a.m. EDT
Updated August 12, 2008 6:56 p.m. EDT

— A Superior Court judge has determined that state agencies owe North Carolina school districts $747.9 million in civil fines and forfeitures that weren't paid out over the past 12 years.

Judge Howard Manning didn't set a deadline for paying the debt, which has been the subject of a lawsuit for the past decade.

The state Supreme Court ruled three years ago that state agencies had wrongly kept administrative fines that constitutionally belonged to public schools. Manning has been trying since then to determine exactly how much was owed the schools.

In an order filed Friday, he determined the state Department of Revenue owes $583.4 million, the Department of Transportation owes $104.1 million in vehicle weight violations, University of North Carolina campuses owe $42.4 million in parking fines, the Employment Security Commission owes $20 million, the Department of Health and Human Services owes $53,955, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources owes $20,781 and the Department of Commerce owes $11,560.

The money will go into the state's Civil Fines and Forfeitures Fund, which would then distribute the money to the state's school districts based on enrollment to help pay for technology needs.

"North Carolina is woefully behind in providing students the essential technology they will need to compete in the 21st century. This judgment will help close that gap," Ed Dunlap, president of the North Carolina School Boards Association, said in a statement.

Rosa Gill, chairwoman of the Wake County school board, said she is excited by the ruling but also has reservations.

"Part of the 21st century student is technology. They must be literate in technology," Gill said. "We just hope it doesn't supplant the amount of money that we normally get from the state."

Manning noted in his 12-page order that he doesn't have the authority to force the General Assembly to appropriate funds, so state lawmakers have to determine how best to pay the debt.

A slowing economy is expected to pinch the state budget next year, and Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand said he has no idea where lawmakers will find the money to pay what is owed to schools.

"They have always honored the rulings of the courts in North Carolina, and we assume that they will continue to do that and live up to their constitutional obligations," said Leanne Winner, director of governmental relations for the School Boards Association.