Oct 312014
 

Elections are always contentious, a battle of messages and wills, but historically in Union County it has been the Primary Elections where the dirty tricks, brown manilla envelopes secreted to the EJ (Enquirer Journal newspaper) and nasty in your face brouhahas at the polls have taken place. The School Board races of years past have been a little more congenial.

Not so in 2014, with redistricting, a 15% County tax increase and a $91 million judgment hanging over taxpayers heads, the contentiousness of this election was all but guaranteed. Some of the school board candidates have visible alignments to sitting board members, which has fueled much of the angst and disgust.

Many people are incensed by tawdry acts such as sharing e-mails sent by concerned parents to board members with pro-redistricting citizens, bombastic Facebook and twitter posts by other board members have created a toxic atmosphere. Add to the mix, a registered Democrat running for the at-large seat, lying to voters about her affiliation and telling people that she is conservative, given the date, a witch’s cauldron at the polls.

THE CUPCAKES GROUP

Continuing with their failed 2012 strategy of strangling the school budget from the inside, the “Good Old Boys”, otherwise known as the Jays & Co. have once again jumped in with both feet by supporting Dennis Rape for the At-Large seat this year. Their 2012 Dream Team candidates; Yercheck, Stewart, Helms and Guzman double crossed them and created a new side, seemingly hell bent on raising the eastern schools to academic parity with the newcomer clusters, even though it requires busing from the west to achieve it.

I will have to invent an appropriate nickname for the BOE gang, so it will be easier to distinguish and track the groups antics. In the meantime lets call the Yercheck, Stewart, Helms and Guzman ensemble the “Cupcakes”. (In fact, as I have thought about this, I will have to write a post about all the county level groups and explain their roles.)

So just for score card purposes, indications are the CupCakes are supporting Richard Yercheck, Jason Marton, Leslie Boyd, Jimmy Bention and Casey Carver. The GOBs are the money and manpower behind Dennis Rape which leaves Sean Maher and Melissa Merrell as only candidates without a special interest group, unless you count the parents of the 5800 students whose lives were up-ended.

THE INCONVENIENT CAMPAIGN RULES
It seems that rules just don’t seem to matter to Dennis Rape and his advisers. His campaign has all the earmarks of Union County cronyism, over the top comments, false accusations of opponents, a “Hit Piece” on a candidate in the EJ (the EJ’s forte over the recent county elections).

Hugo Chavez as may be dead, but his tactics are still alive in eastern Union County.

NCGA Statue: 136.32(b) Campaign Signs

RapeBanner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday, I found this gift (pictured below) in my paper box. I heard about it previously and since I live in District 3, I wasn’t surprised to get one of my very own. I would be willing to bet that the authors of this expensive flyer are the same ones supporting Dennis Rape — just a wild guess of course.

I may fault the messenger, but it’s difficult to fault the message, as each bullet point is somewhat to mostly accurate.

The school board did sue the county, largely necessitated by belligerent tactics by the Commissioner majority plus one, who never had any intention of funding the schools properly. It really turned ugly when a couple of  commissioners went apoplectic, once they discovered the betrayal of their grand scheme, orchestrated by Yercheck and Kevin Stewart. The county was over-matched in court, and as a result taxpayers bear the brunt of the cost for the Hatfield and McCoy’s to wage a budget war.

Finally, I don’t think comparing Obama to Yercheck is really fair. It’s like comparing Bernie Madoff to a shoplifter, though I’m sure the flyer recipient gets the idea.

Tuesday’s almost here and perhaps we will find out whether or not western county residents and parents can find the polls and participate.

IMG_20141031_0001

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

Oct 182013
 

Yesterday, the County Commissioners laid out their reasons for appealing the verdict.

From County Commissioner Press Release: “We cannot allow a verdict that would destroy our schools, bankrupt our businesses, and squeeze every single taxpayer in our county to go unchallenged,” said Union County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jerry Simpson. “This decision would devastate businesses, seniors, taxpayers and children.”

“We are not going to sit by and have 12 jurors determine the future of our county,” Simpson said. “If taxpayers want to spend that kind of money and deal with the consequences of that kind of spending, then all the voters of Union County should decide to go down that path. This decision would harm our businesses, our schools, our families to the core.”

EJ: County appeals school funding verdict

Now, is anyone really surprised at the County filing an appeal? Whats the old saying “In for a penny, In for a pound” fit the reasoning or is “OPM: Other Peoples Money” more apropos. For a group of mind-synced politicians who constantly profess to be good stewards of taxpayer money or pound the table of conservative values, they are very liberal in spending money on lawyers, audits and “Needs” studies that they just ignore when result is opposite of what their mindset expected.

I suppose what really irks me more than anything else is the histrionics and fear-mongering they continue to do in every communique to the public. They sound like, forgive me, Barrack Obama during sequestration last year.

All you had to say was “We are going to appeal”, that was it! No more pointless posturing, we know the dance ~~ KABUKI ON, Garth.

aragoto

Kabuki(sml)

Jerry Simpson: pictured in a white, Cindy Coto and Jonathan Thomas.
(Click the photo to enlarge)

 

 

 


KABUKI DANCE
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Kabuki is a term used by American political pundits as a synonym for political posturing. It acquired this derogatory meaning after drawn out peace-time treaty negotiations between the United States and Japan which had extended to 1960, and because Japan, in an effort “to shed its image as a global marauder” sent Kabuki theater tours to the U.S. after World War II to sow the seeds of goodwill.

Oct 132013
 

MONROE — One day after a Union County jury directed county commissioners to give the public school system an additional $91 million, the chairman of the board of commissioners warned that service cuts and an increase in property taxes are inevitable.

In a prepared statement, Jerry Simpson, chairman of the board of commissioners, said that the $230 million in fund balances identified during the eight-week trial no longer exist.

“While at the end of FY 2012 these funds existed, it is important to note that a significant portion of these monies have been expended and the remaining earmarked for critical county capital projects and programs for law enforcement, human services, and other core county functions,” Simpson wrote.

School board chairman Richard Yercheck disagreed in a statement issued Friday.

“While on the witness stand, both County Manager Cindy Coto and County Commission Chairman Jerry Simpson acknowledged that there are county fund balances in the amount of $139,000,000, of which more than $120,000,000 is unrestricted,” Yercheck wrote. “There are ample funds available in the county’s coffers to fully fund the jury’s verdict without touching the county’s tax rate.”

Simpson argued that $91.5 million of the cited fund balance is in the county’s Water and Wastewater Utility Enterprise Fund which can only be used to maintain or improve the utility.

Simpson said the jury award will have”immediate and far-reaching effect” on the county’s ability to deliver services and that it is “impossible to think that it will not have a significant financial impact on taxpayers.”

via Simpson: Surpluses are spent, earmarked | The Enquirer Journal.

Sep 012013
 

DPI director: State directs school spending, not locals

By Heather Smith

MONROE — The funding trial between Union County and Union County Public Schools continued with testimony about how the N.C. Department of Public Instruction decides how much money each school district receives annually.

Court began Friday with testimony from N.C. Department of Public Instruction Director of School Business Alexis Schauss. UCPS attorney Richard Schwartz had her explain a bar graph of per-pupil funding. Where fiscal year 2009 was almost exclusively paid for with state funds, the graph indicated that federal and local funding made up larger and larger amounts of the total school budget in the following years. Instead of school spending increasing in recent years to keep up with the increase in students, Schwartz noted the amount has risen little.

“The total funding has not kept up with the growth in students,” Schauss said.

In this year’s budget, Union County commissioners approved 89.4 percent of the UCPS request for things falling under the 6000 purpose code series the state uses to categorize costs. She also explained that utility and maintenance costs made up a large portion of the 6000 series costs.

“Can Union County use state money to pay for maintenance and utilities?” Schwartz asked.

“No,” Schauss said.

Her testimony also explained that annual budget planning for the next fiscal year begins in February when DPI statisticians calculate the best estimate of how much each school district needs for the upcoming year.

“There are no funds there. There’s no authority. It is just a document,” Schauss said.

During this step, the state uses estimated student enrollment to determine the number of teachers the district will need. Schauss said local staffing is decided by DPI, not the school district. When the state funds the number of employees it determines is appropriate for the district, the money is not given to the district. The money is assigned for the purpose of paying teachers and administrators.

The average payroll cost of those employees is calculated and added to the estimate to transport and feed the students and provide for any special needs. Schools provide instruction for students who qualify as “exceptional children.” They range from children with mild behavioral problems and learning disabilities to those with profound developmental disabilities, blindness, autism and paralysis. Most have a written curriculum plans.

The estimates, called a planning allotment, also considers any past legislative changes in effect then, though the General Assembly passes several changes affecting school funding later in the spring.

“We run those current year formulas to give a starting point of if formulas continue the same way they have in the past, here is your updated funding number,” Schauss said.

Formulas and funding totals never stay the same year to year, she said. Changes in the economy, county student population, tax collection rates, decisions by the legislature and several other criteria mean school budgets are built from the ground up annually.

This year, DPI calculated UCPS’s average daily membership at 40,797. That qualified them for $208,179,152. But that amount is not what school districts should base their budget planning on, Schauss said. Formula deductions needed to be removed from that total.

The planning allotment is DPI staff’s best guess at funding. No number is solid until the General Assembly passes its budget. This year, it passed and was signed by Gov. Pat McCrory in July. Days later, DPI staff had calculated a budget appropriation for each school district. Still, this amount – called the initial allotment – is not the final number, Schauss said. It is simply the first official numbers.

Student enrollment, the number of students entering charter or virtual schools, transportation costs and a host of other criteria cannot be determined until school starts. For the first ten days of school, the district budget is revised many times by DPI based on data from different districts.

Until this year, school districts had LEA adjustments, mandatory budget reductions to reduce the overall state education budget. The state faced large budget shortfalls in recent past. School officials had to make its costs fit what the state could afford to give them, so DPI staff calculated how much less each school district’s budget must be to comply.

“It was a budget mechanism to take cuts from school districts, but it provided them some flexibility as to where they wanted those cuts,” Schauss said.  

Schools could choose to cut teaching assistants, teachers or anything else with a smaller impact on school operations.

Based on this formula, DPI calculated UCPS’s cuts would be about $10,162,182 back in February. That brought the total estimated funding to $198,016,970.

But later in the spring, the General Assembly chose to stop LEA adjustments and mandated where the cuts had to be made based on the average of where school districts cut funding in the past. State funding for classroom teachers, instructional materials and instructional support were reduced for all school districts in the state.

DPI revised UCPS’s planning allotment later in the year to reflect the changes. The new estimated budget appropriation for local schools fell to a total of $193,491,814, Schauss said.

She testified that County Finance Director Jeff Yates contacted DPI allotment division staff to ask about the planning allotment. She explained that Yates’ original calculation for how much schools would receive from the state was wrong because it assumed the LEA reduction was added back onto the estimated total.

Schwartz presented her with a Union County press release from July 31 that stated DPI’s analysis of the new state budget found UCPS would get $5.6 million more than first expected.

“Is this statement accurate? That Union County would see an increase of $5.64 million more than the $198 million figure?” Schwartz said.

“No,” Schauss said.

“Did the Department of Public Instruction ever indicate that in any analysis?” Schwartz said.

“No,” Schauss said.

“Would any such analysis from the Department of Public Instruction have come out of your division?” he asked.

“No,” she said.

“If there was such an analysis, would it have come out of your division?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” she said.

“Is this a true statement or a false statement at the bottom of this county press release with regard to analysis by the Department of Public Instruction indicating that Union County would see an increase of $5.6 million?” he said.

There was no analysis that showed that,” she said. “It is incorrect.”

Schwartz pointed out the same statement in the Aug. 6 Union Update newsletter produced by the county. Schauss said there was no analysis done by then either, so the county’s statement was still incorrect.

“Now, in opening statements, there was a statement made that Union County Public Schools has 560 administrative personnel not counting those at the school level,” Schwartz said. “Does that sound like its possible from your perspective?”

No,” Schauss said, laughing. “That’s, uh, no. That would be an enormous number.”

“Does the Department of Public Instruction keep track of central office administrators and their numbers at different school systems?” Schwartz asked.

“We do and we publish that,” Schauss said.

Schwartz presented the court with a screenshot of the UCPS statistical profile found on the DPI website. He asked Schauss to read from the exhibit the number of UCPS administrators employed during the 2012-2013 school year. It was 27, she said, three less than the previous school year.

via DPI director: State directs school spending, not locals | The Enquirer Journal.

(Readers Please  Note: Emphasized text was added by VSO)


Readers Note: the following document was referred to in the testimony above.

August 6 Union Update

Header

August 6, 2013

 

QUICK LINKS
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View YouTube

UCFacebook

PRFacebook
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Get the Library’s Monthly Program Guide
Sign up to receive the Union County Public Library’s monthly program guide via your email by contacting Shelley Fearn, Reader’s Services Librarian, at

 

Featured Library Programs
MOONSHINERS: A
UNION COUNTY
PROBLEM?
Sunday, August 11
2:15 p.m.

Marshville Library

Deputy Mark Helms of the
Union County Sheriff’s
Office will discuss
moonshiners in Union
County from the past to
the present! No registration
required.
  

 

Adult Tutors Needed

 

Take the first step by attending Literacy Council 101 on one of these dates:

 

 

Tuesday, Aug. 13

6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Tuesday, Sept. 9

6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

 

Tuesday, Oct. 22

6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

For more information, contact

the Literacy Council of Union County at 704-226-1425 or

email:

info@literacyunion.org

www.literacyunion.org

 

 

 

Open House/Ask a Master Gardener

 

Saturday, August 17

8:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.

Teaching Gardens

Union County Ag.Center

Presson Road in Monroe

Union County Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners are beginning a series of Open House/Ask a Master Gardener programs that will take place on the third Saturday of each month.

Bring your questions and come see what we’re doing in the gardens. If you have questions, email  ucmgwebsite@gmail.com.

 

 

Union County Public Schools Failed
to Resolve Budget Dispute

 

On June 17, the Union County Board of Commissioners adopted an FY 2014 budget that provided an additional $1.47 million in operating

resources and $3 million of capital funding as part of a six-year $18 million schools capital program. In FY 2014, the total county cost for Union County Public Schools is $133 million, representing 56.9 percent of the county general fund budget.

“We believe the adopted budget represents an affordable, fiscally
sustainable financial plan for the residents of Union County,” said Chairman Jerry Simpson. “Our residents and families cannot afford tax increases; this recession has had a significant negative impact.”

The school board contends that the $82.26 million allocated for operating expenses is insufficient to provide for a free public education. The parties completed the legally prescribed mediation process today without resolution.

As part of the mediation process, the school board proposed a funding plan that would provide an additional $1.9 million over three years for operation, in addition to the forecasted increases based on the existing funding formula. The proposal also requested an additional $26 million for capital over three years from FY 2014 to FY 2016.

The fiscal impact of the school board’s proposal generated an estimated cumulative deficit of $38.5 million over three years. To offset this request, by FY 2016, there would need to be a 10 percent tax rate increase, making the estimated effective tax rate 86.59 cents.

As of June 13, the county had $447.4 million of outstanding UCPS related debt.

“The school board’s proposal is not financially sustainable,” said Union County Manager Cindy Coto.

During the mediation process, the North Carolina General Assembly

adopted the state budget. Analysis by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction indicates that as part of the budgetary changes from the state’s adopted budget, UCPS will see an increase of $5.64 million more than what was originally planned for in the UCPS proposed budget.

During the mediation process, the county was forced to sue UCPS to gain access to public financial records. The records lawsuit remains pending.

Additionally, a review of records provided thus far identified concerns in the UCPS budget proposal and financial practices:

1. Although in FY 2011-12 salaries and benefits represented 59
percent of the UCPS budget, county staff was advised that no
personnel rosters or worksheets exist to determine the cost of

personnel.

2. Although the proposed FY 2014 UCPS budget is $334 million, no

detailed budget work papers exist.

3. Although the county was advised that the central administration staff do not receive compensation beyond base salary and beyond the doctoral supplements, the Charlotte Observer’s website reports that the administrative cabinet, consisting of nine senior management

staff receive in excess of $169,000 in additional compensation.

4. Although the county was advised that the school board had not
requested additional staff in several budget years, from FY 2012 to
FY 2013, the UCPS web site represents that the number of
employees grew by 21.79 percent, or 971 positions.
A. 637 licensed and 334 non-licensed
B. During this same time period, enrollment grew by 1.48
percent. For every new student UCPS received, they added
1.62 new employees.
5. During FY 2013, the school board received a net of $12.8 million

increase in funding from the originally adopted budget.

6. From FY 2008 to FY 2012, on average funding for the support and
administration grew by more than twice the rate than local funding

for the classroom did.

Given the adopted county funding, adjustments in areas of the school

board’s budget that appears to be over inflated, increased state budget funding, and the UCPS local fund balance, the school board’s proposed budget has a projected surplus of $2.92 million, in FY 2014, over and above its needs.

“It’s is my hope that with a projected surplus of $2.92 million in 2014, that the school board would not move forward with suing the residents of Union County for more money,” said Chairman Jerry Simpson.

Following the end of mediation, the school board decided to sue the
residents of Union County for additional funding beyond the projected
surplus.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Aug 302013
 

Simpson takes stand in school funding trial

By Carolyn Steeves

MONROE —  The trial between the Union County Board of Education and the Union County Board of Commissioners continued Wednesday afternoon with County Manager Cindy Coto in the witness box.

Board of Education Attorney Richard Schwartz asked Coto about the funding formula the commissioners adopted in March. He asked Coto if she advised the commissioners that the board of education did not approve the formula prior to their vote. Coto could not remember.

The concept of the formula was developed at a Feb. 15 meeting, but the entire policy was not fully developed there. Schwartz asked if there were any meeting between Feb. 15 and March 18, when the formula was adopted. Coto said no meetings, but some e-mails.

Coto said she still believes the funding formula covers school funding. She said the intent of the formula was to give the schools a rough idea of the money they would have from the county when they were putting together a budget.

Coto was dismissed after more than a week of questioning and Chairman Jerry Simpson of the Union County Board of Commissioners was called to the stand.

Simpson has been on the board since 2010 and was chosen as chairman at his first meeting.

Schwartz questioned Simpson about a press release the county issued in March with a quote attributed to Simpson. The press release mentioned a surplus that they learned a few days later was incorrect due to a false assumption made by Union County Finance Director Jeff Yates.

Schwartz asked Simpson if Coto explained that Yates had done some bad math.

“Mr. Yates doesn’t do bad math,” Simpson said.

Simpson said Yates explained how he arrived at the first piece of information and what he believed to be the correct information. He could not talk about it further, saying it was part of mediation and therefore closed.

Judge Erwin Spainhour reminded Schwartz that he cannot ask about the mediation sessions that ended in an impasse and led to the court case.

Schwartz asked Simpson if they issued a retraction once they discovered the mistake and Simpson said no.

“At that point we were heading toward litigation,” Simpson said, adding that he did not see the point.

You didn’t see the point in correcting bad information the county had given to the public? Schwartz asked.

In addition to the press release, the Union Update e-newsletter also contained the numbers. Simpson said they discussed Union Update and discussed the information being wrong, but did not change it.

Schwartz also questioned Simpson about the funding formula, asking if he remembered Board of Education Chairman Richard Yercheck saying the funding would not be sufficient.

Simpson said he remembered Yercheck having an issue with the pennies in the formula. When Schwartz asked if it was clear at the Feb. 15 meeting that there was no agreement on the formula, Simpson said it was a conceptual formula so there was no agreement.

However, Schwartz noted, the county adopted the formula without hearing from the schools and the amount in the capital outlay is the same as the amount in the penny formula.

Schwartz asked Simpson if, when they adopted the budget, they had the school’s request. Simpson said yes, but they never approved the original request.

Schwartz had Simpson use a calculator to calculate some budget figures. Commissioner Attorney Ligon Bundy objected to Schwartz “giving his client math tests,” noting that Schwartz had the numbers. Spainhour overruled his objection.

Schwartz had Simpson total the operations budget and the capital outlay, noting that the amount was lower than last year.

He asked Simpson if Wednesday afternoon was the first time he had realized that that total funding went down this year.

Simpson said he did not have the specific numbers and it was his understanding that they were funding more for operations and probably less for capital.

Simpson said that the capital and operations funding were separate for him and he had never totaled them.

“Until just now,” Schwartz asked.

“Until just now,” Simpson replied.

Schwartz asked about the school system’s facilities plan. Simpson said they had not studied the plan or proposals as a board.

Schwartz noted that at $3 million a year, it would take 91 years to pay for the school’s needs, assuming no inflation, bonds or changes in need. He noted that the study was only for existing schools, not new schools or land.

Simpson said the $3 million was a placeholder until they received more information and he assumed the board of education would come next year with their needs and they would adjust the amount. He said they asked five specific questions and did not receive answers.

The trial continued Thursday and will resume Friday morning, with an early release for the holiday. There will be no court Monday due to Labor Day and proceedings will resume Tuesday.

via Simpson takes stand in school funding trial | The Enquirer Journal.

Aug 122013
 

Acrimonious Union County budget fight heads to court Monday

By Adam Bell
abell@charlotteobserver.com
Posted: Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013

The acrimonious budget fight between Union County commissioners and the school board is heading to court this week.

The trial begins Monday in Union County Superior Court, and could last a week or two.

The school board claims that commissioners did not adequately fund the school district for the current school year. The county insists it provided enough money, and that any additional money going to the board would result in tax hikes or service cuts.

In its lawsuit, the school board is seeking a judgment that may authorize commissioners to raise taxes “as may be necessary” to cover money awarded to the district.

The district also wants a jury to determine the amount of money “legally necessary from all sources” to maintain the school system. Such sources could include state or federal funds or proceeds from the state lottery or sales tax, said Richard Schwartz, a Raleigh attorney who represents the district.

In June, the school board had sought mediation after county commissioners approved their $298 million operating and capital budget for 2013-14. The budget included $82.3 million in general operating funds for the school district, or about $2.7 million less than the district wanted but a nearly 2 percent increase over the previous year.

The district also sought $8.4 million in capital funds; the county approved $9 million over three years.

In mediation, the school district proposed a settlement to get an additional $1.9 million over a three-year period for operating expenses, and another $26 million in capital funds during that time, on top of the funding it already was set to receive, the county said. Such a plan would create a $38.5 million deficit over three years, the county said, and require a whopping 10 percent tax increase.

The county disclosed the district’s plan after they reached an impasse in mediation, and included it in a press released with the headline: “Union County Public Schools Failed to Resolve Budget Dispute.”

At the time, the county also said the district had a projected surplus of $2.9 million when factoring in the county’s funding, the school district’s fund balance, adjustments for school board budget requests that appeared to be inflated, and increases in state funding that were finalized after mediation began.

The district’s press release after mediation ended blamed the county’s “failure of leadership” for publicly attacking the school system.

Schwartz called the $2.9 million figure “wildly inaccurate. They don’t understand the state budgeting process.” And he said the county’s description of the settlement offer was completely inaccurate.

Judge Erwin Spainhour, senior resident superior court judge in Cabarrus County, is expected to preside over the case.

As part of its lawsuit, the school district wants the county to cover the district’s legal fees, which Schwartz said was a standard request in such cases. Union County will be represented by county attorney Ligon Bundy and another lawyer in his office, Chris Cox.

The losing side has the option of going to the N.C. Court of Appeals.

The current state law dealing with school district funding disputes was enacted in 1997 and since then, no district has sought mediation more than Union’s. The district has sought mediation four times now.

Each of the other three times, in 1998, 2003 and 2007, the two sides settled the case before going to court although the 2007 deal resulted in a tax increase to cover increases in the district’s budget. It added nearly 3 cents to the tax rate, or nearly an extra $60 in taxes for someone with a $200,000 home.

via Acrimonious Union County budget fight heads to court Monday | CharlotteObserver.com.