LUMBERTON — Republican leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly have written school leaders in Robeson County seeking their support in lobbying Gov. Roy Cooper to bring $7.5 million to the county schools.
The money is part of a $57.8 million payment from the builders of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that is the subject of a tug-of-war between the governor and legislators. Senate President Pro-tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore sent out the letter, which is dated March 15.
Peggy Wilkins Chavis, chairperson of the Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education, received the letter. She said $7.5 million is needed.
“I will contact the superintendent and possibly meet on Monday,” Chavis said. “I have not read all of the letter yet.”
Cooper, who cut the deal with the pipelines builders, wants the money spent along the pipeline for economic development and environmental mitigation. Legislators want a federal investigation of the deal, which was announced the same day the pipeline builders received key construction permits from state environmental regulators. They have suggested an illegal quid pro quo.
Senate Bill 90 takes the funds from the governor and gives it to the schools of eight counties along the pipeline’s route. It does not spell out how the money is to be used.
Republican lawmakers have said Cooper doesn’t have the right to determine how the money can be spent, and have worked to get it to support education along the eight counties in North Carolina through which the pipeline would run.
In the letter, Sen. Berger and Rep. Moore said the governor has sued the Legislature to stop distribution of the $57.8 million to those school systems along the natural gas pipeline. Berger and Moore say school funding is economic development.
“Please consider contacting Gov. Cooper to explain how investing in our children’s education will have a substantial positive impact on economic development and job creation in rural eastern North Carolina and to encourage him to avoid litigation and allow this bill to become law,” the letter reads in part.
It continues: “Unfortunately, since passing the bill, we have received troubling signals from Gov. Cooper that he may not believe investing this roughly $58 million in public education will help economic development and job creation in your community, and that he may even attempt to block local school districts from receiving these funds.”
The school board will consider responses, Chavis said. A letter from the chairperson or a board resolution is possible.
“It ($7.5 million) would be good for our schools,” she said. “Construction of a new school is being discussed, and we don’t know if we have enough money.”
Hurricane Matthew destroyed West Lumberton Elementary School and the district’s central office. School district leaders are waiting for money from insurance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help pay for construction projects.
Chavis’ list of needs for the public schools is long, and include higher teacher supplements, textbooks and school supplies.he Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a project of Dominion Energy and Duke Energy.
The 600-mile, $5 billion pipeline would begin in West Virginia and end near Pembroke.
Staff writer Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]