Some state lawmakers are making another effort to strip North Carolina school systems of their ability to go to court to try get more money from their local boards of commissioners.
House Bill 305, filed Thursday, would strike from state law the sections that allow school boards to sue county commissioners for more money to build and operate schools. Bills have repeatedly been filed over the years to try to remove the lawsuit threat that some school systems have used to get more education funding.
Some legislators have argued over the years that school boards waste taxpayer money by suing their counties over budget requests. But critics have said taking away the authority to sue weakens the ability of school systems to get the money they need to educate students.
North Carolina school districts don’t have taxing authority, so they request money from their county boards of commissioners for facility needs. School boards also ask commissioners to supplement amounts they get from the state and federal government for day-to-day needs in the operating budget.
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Under state law, school boards can officially declare to commissioners that they don’t feel they’re getting enough funding. This leads to a meeting with a mediator to try to resolve the argument.
If mediation fails, the school board can then file a lawsuit in Superior Court to request more money.
Between 1997 and 2015, a handful of school districts each year have used the mediation process with some later filing a lawsuit, according to the UNC School of Government. In 2015, the N.C. Court of Appeals overturned a $91 million judgment that a jury awarded to the Union County school board in its suit against county commissioners.
Under HB 305, the decision of the commissioners would be declared final if mediation doesn’t result in an agreement between both local boards.
The primary sponsors of the measure are Reps. Debra Conrad of Winston-Salem, Larry Potts of Lexington, Carl Ford of China Grove and Michael Wray of Gaston. All the sponsors except Wray are Republicans.
In 2015, the Senate passed legislation that would have taken away the ability of school boards to sue.
But the General Assembly later adopted a revised version of House Bill 561 that instead called on the legislature’s Program Evaluation Division to review how to resolve funding disputes between school boards and commissioners. The report hasn’t yet been released.