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If local school boards need a way to hold county commissions accountable when it comes to providing sufficient local funds for schools, they may soon lose a key feather in their hats — the ability to sue.

Senate lawmakers passed an amended House bill Wednesday that strips local school boards of their ability to sue the county in the event they believe the commissioners should provide more local funds for the district’s schools.

Similar to a bill that was defeated in the House earlier in the legislative session, NC School Boards Association lobbyist Leanne Winner says the current measure would change the dynamic in local communities when it comes to negotiating local budgets.

“School boards are the only elected body in North Carolina that doesn’t have ability to raise its own revenue,” said Winner. “School boards are also the body to which the state has given responsibility to provide the opportunity for children to receive a sound basic education. If a school board doesn’t have resources necessary to do that, there has to be some kind of mechanism available to be able to deal with those financial issues.”

Senator Dan Soucek (R-Watauga) amended HB 561 quietly on the Senate floor Tuesday to strip the school boards of their power to sue county commissions for the next five years, citing a need for a “cooling off period” between local governments and school boards. Other supporters of the bill say it’s a waste of money for counties to sue themselves.

In 2013, the Union County school board sued the county over a budget dispute which resulted in a $91 judgment that was overturned by an appellate court.

Winner says it’s important for school boards to have the possibility of litigation as a negotiating tactic when working on a local budget.

“While the process is not used very often, the notion that it exists helps bring people to the table to to do more for their community,” said Winner.

Without a way to push county commissions to sufficiently fund public schools, local school boards will have to rely even more on the state’s coffers to fulfill their constitutional requirement to provide the opportunity for a sound basic education for all.

North Carolina has seen state-funded per pupil investment fall considerably over the past several years. Since 2008, per pupil funding has dropped nearly 15 percent according to the Center on Budget and Public Policy, ranking among the lowest in the nation.

The Senate version of the bill must now go back to the House for concurrence. Given House lawmakers’ defeat of a similar measure earlier this session, it’s unclear if a second attempt will prove successful.

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This post is the first in a BTC series highlighting cuts made in the 2011-2013 legislative budget that contributed extremely little towards reducing the budget writers’ $2.5 billion first-year budget gap, but which will have resounding negative impacts on public structures that enable economic recovery and create opportunities for broad-based prosperity.

New research from the Carolina Institute for Public Policy at UNC-Chapel Hill supports the idea that strategic investments in teacher professional development – particularly investments in novice teachers – can yield significant gains in student outcomes. The study concluded that many novice teachers have the capacity for immediate improvement if their preparation, orientation, induction, and mentoring could stimulate their development as effective teachers.[i]

Unfortunately, the final budget disregards this, and other, important research on the value of teacher professional development. Rather than considering the state’s current strategies and investments in teacher professional development with an eye towards yielding better outcomes, the budget simply struck $53 million in spending on teacher development and mentoring over the biennium. Read More

Falling Behind in NC

Sources: N.C. State Demographer, July of each year; NC OSBM Post-Legislative Summary Reports; NC House Budget Appropriations Subcommittee on Health & Human Services, FY2011-13 Budget Recommendations

During the Great Recession, the number of North Carolina children under the age of five increased by more than 40,000, but state spending on child development programs and services via the NC Department of Health and Human services would contract dramatically under the House’s FY11-13 budget proposal. Read More

Falling Behind in NC
State Public Health Spending v. NC Population Growth

Sources: NC OSBM, State Population Estimates for July; NC OSBM Post-Legislative Summary Reports; NC House Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services FY2011-13 Budget Recommendations

State spending on public health has been actively outpaced by the growth of the North Carolina population, shifting the responsibility for providing core health services and support to counties and other local governments. Read More

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For us folks in Wilmington, the tug-o-war over construction of a functional convention center has been putting people to sleep for years while those attending events with more than a few dozen others at the current facility spend useless minutes, gas, and patience trying to park and dodge comunity college students.

We were suddenly awakened a few weeks ago when Wilmington city officials worked through a pending law suit, political fallout, and general malaise to inform us that yes, Wilmington was going to break ground on a new convention center after over a decade of discussion, pricey hired consultants, and general empty rhetoric. 

That's the good news.  The bad news is that city chose Raleigh based builder J.M. Thompson to complete the project; this the same outfit that went over budget $1,000,000 on the recently completed New Hanover County jail, charged the county thousands to rent basic equipment such as copiers and computers, and took twice as long to complete the job as scheduled.  Seems to me to be a bit boneheaded to hire an out of town builder that has a poor track record in your area, especially when a local builder was hired to help complete their last disaster.

As stated in the Wilmington Star-News, our city manager (hired after the previous manager was fired in a male ego hissyfit orchestrated by a former mayor) cited the decades of time that Thompson had been in business as an indication that they would perform well with the convention center contract.  I guess he's never been to jail, or the new jail, anyway.

Wilmington needs a space for professionals to gather, and let's just hope that this choice doesn't make the process take even longer and cost even more. It seems our town is getting a statewide reputation for bad municipal decisions, unethical elected officials, non-existent attention to infrastructure, and development influenced government.  If we're not careful, Myrtle Beach may come a lot closer than an hour away.