By Carolyn Steeves
MONROE — The Union County Board of Education rejected the Union County Board of County Commissioner’s most recent settlement offer Thursday.
The refusal came in the form of a seven-page letter sent Thursday to County Commission Chairman Frank Aikmus, Vice-Chairman Jerry Simpson and the three other county commissioners.
UCPS Board of Education met in closed session Tuesday and decided unanimously to reject the offer.
“Eleven million dollars is a lot of money,” School Board Chairman Richard Yercheck said. He said all nine members of the board wanted to thoughtfully consider the offer made by the county commissioners.
“At the end of the day, we wanted to honor the jury verdict and the fact that we’ve got more than $91 million (worth) of needs,” he said.
Yercheck added that they want to structure the $91 million jury verdict over a period of time so there would not be a hardship on the taxpayers and the county could continue moving forward with its needs without requiring a tax increase.
“The school board is willing to agree to payments made on a schedule that is both aggressive and attainable, so that we can begin to address these needs,” Yercheck wrote in the letter. “I would welcome the opportunity to meet and work with you constructively towards that end.”
Richard Schwartz, the school board’s attorney, will contact Union County Attorney Ligon Bundy to respond in more detail to the settlement offer, according to the letter.
The commissioners asked for a joint meeting between the two boards in a Dec. 2 meeting. No such meeting is yet scheduled.
Whether a joint meeting could be productive would depend on several concerns, Yercheck wrote in the letter. A meeting now to discuss developing the school’s 2014-2015 budget would be premature due to the statutory timeline imposed by the state and the standard budget development process.
Last year, the budget timeline was accelerated and it was neither convenient nor productive for the school board and did not have a positive result, he wrote.
“Given those results last year, we think it would be more productive to maintain the normal budget development schedule, as set by state law, which allows us to receive more reliable information about our needs and obligations and more reliable information from other funding sources, so that we can produce a more informed and better budget,” the letter states. “This will also enable you to gain a better idea of your additional revenues available at the time you receive our budget.”
Yercheck also addressed the desire to promote improved relations between these two boards. It is something the commissioners seem to strongly endorse as a goal, but he questioned their method.
“We can all agree that it is important for the two boards to develop a better working relationship,” he wrote. “However, it would not be fruitful to have a meeting in which school officials are chastised and characterized as irresponsible spenders by commissioners, sometimes reading scripts, which all too frequently has been the case.”
He instead suggested they address outstanding issues regarding the 2013-2014 budget and the jury verdict awarded in the fall.
“The Board of Education has a $91 million money judgment against the county,” Yercheck wrote. “The judgment is a legal obligation, but more than that, it represents the jury’s findings as to the existing needs of the Union County Public Schools. That is an essential fact that seems to be ignored in the County’s responses.”
He added that so far, the county’s main response to the verdict has been to file an appeal.
Yercheck also objected to the perceived characterization of the school board by commissioners.
“All too often, the attitude toward the Board of Education from commissioners is to attack and disrespect the school board,” he wrote. “The Board of Education has been characterized as ‘spending like drunken sailors’ and commissioners have told our citizens in public meetings that you have protected them from ‘tax and spend school board.’’
The “drunken sailor” comment refers to something said by
During the April 16, 2012 commissioners meeting, Commissioner Jonathan Thomas said, “That’s what we need folks, we need a board of education that will work with us, not send out publicity stints (sic) to get people all upset when we’re spending money like drunken sailors in the central office.”
Yercheck’s letter states that both boards are elected and entitled to equal respect and the the school system is not a department of the county.
Yercheck also addressed the settlement offer made Dec. 2, which had a deadline of noon, Dec. 6.