LUMBERTON — It isn’t known how much money would come to Robeson County if a lawsuit to get the state to pay the more about $700 million owed to public schools is successful.
But it would likely be substantial as Robeson County, with about 24,000 students, is about the 15th largest system in the state.
“It would be distributed on an ADM (Average Daily Membership) basis,” said Leanne Winner, director of Governmental Relations for the North Carolina School Boards Association.
The association and 20 individual school boards filed a lawsuit Wednesday reviving a legal battle over fees collected by agencies for late tax payments, overweight vehicles and other items. A trial judge ruled in 2008 that the districts should receive nearly $750 million from the penalty proceeds. But Superior Court Judge Howard Manning didn’t order the N.C. Legislature to pay up, saying that was beyond the scope of his judicial power.
Whatever money may come to Robeson County will be determined by the number of students attending the public schools, according to Winner. And the money would be shared by all 115 of North Carolina’s public school systems because the NCSBA is representing all the systems not just the 20 that signed on when the lawsuit was first filed in 1998.
The Public Schools of Robeson County was one of the original 20.
It is not known if the money would be sent to the school systems in a lump-sum payment or in installments.
“That would be part of any negotiation or settlement,” Winner said.
No court date has been scheduled to hear the revived lawsuit, according to Winner. And there is no way of knowing how long the case could be tied up in the courts.
In the meantime, the association is continuing to lobby state lawmakers in hopes of finding a legislative solution. The association sent letters in March to Attorney General Josh Stein, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger asking to discuss settlement ideas. Those leaders have yet to respond to the letters. Other lawmakers have been approached.
“I can’t give you a number over the years. I can just say many,” Winner said.
The North Carolina Constitution requires certain fines and forfeitures go to public schools, but between 1996 and mid-2005 seven state agencies failed to pass the money along, according to court decisions. The latest lawsuit concerning the fees was filed a week before the 2008 ruling was to expire.
So far, the University of North Carolina system is the only state agency to pay a part of what it owes — $18 million of a total of $42 million, Rod Malone, an attorney representing the NCSBA, said recently. The other agencies have yet to pay anything at all. The lawsuit seeks the remaining $730 million.
According to NCSBA’s lawsuit, the Department of Revenue owes $583.3 million; Department of Transportation, $104 million; UNC, $42.3 million; Employment Security Commission, $20 million; Department of Health and Human Services, $53,955; Department of Environmental Quality, $20,781; and the Department of Commerce owes $11,560.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]