Lee BOE enters voucher lawsuit

Jan. 16, 2014 @ 05:01 AM

On the same night its attorney was honored with one of the highest awards the state government can give, the Lee County Board of Education also decided to join a lawsuit against that same state government.

Jimmy Love Sr. received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Tuesday night from former Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker, a Sanford native and former law partner of Love’s, and former N.C. Sen. Bob Atwater, a Democrat from Chapel Hill who worked with Love when they both represented Lee County in the General Assembly.

“He taught me a lot of things I needed to know — and some things I didn’t need to know,” Wicker said, laughing while speaking about the 15 years he and Love spent in private practice together before Wicker took office.

Turning serious, he added: “Jimmy Love is one of the finest individuals I know, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”

Love, who caused some of the school board members to cry when he got teary-eyed himself, took the opportunity to reminisce about his time in the legislature and said he was honored by the award.

Love’s award was signed by former Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat. She has since been replaced by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory — and it was his actions, and the actions of the Republican-controlled legislature, that prompted legal action Tuesday from the school board.

The board unanimously voted to join a lawsuit on the side of the N.C. School Boards Association (NCSBA) and others against the state and certain state departments. All legal costs reportedly will be paid by the NCSBA.

The plaintiffs allege a new and controversial voucher program is unconstitutional because it takes money from the constitutionally mandated public education system to fund private schools, which are not mandated, and that furthermore, it does not require participating private schools to be non-discriminatory in their admissions.

There was little discussion about the decision. Only board member Tamara Brogan spoke, saying she was worried about this law from the beginning because of the lack of regulations on private schools.

“There’s no standards,” Brogan said. “There’s no accountability whatsoever. ... [Students] could be going into these schools, and we just don’t know what kind of education they’re getting.”

She also questioned why the state would want to cut even more funding from public education. The voucher program is now funded at $10 million but could balloon to $50 million in a few years.

Budget discussions weren’t just limited to the lawsuit. Superintendent Andy Bryan said school principals came to him Tuesday to make their annual budget pitches, a good way for school leaders to pick up good money-saving tips from each other. However, the school district also lost its longtime budget director Tammy Magill, the associate superintendent for financial business services. She announced hours before Tuesday’s meeting that she would be leaving to take over the finance department in Harnett County Schools.

The board also:

* Hosted more than 100 students and parents from J. Glenn Edwards Elementary School, which had its kindergarteners give a presentation called “It’s Snowtime!” The students sang, played instruments and handed out artwork to the school board members.

* In an unrelated note, congratulated Edwards Elementary for being named Head of Class by the Lee County Education Foundation, which gives a trophy and a $50,000 prize to the best elementary school in the county each year.

* Accepted the invitation of the Lee County Board of Commissioners to attend a joint session focused on the budget Feb. 6 at 5:30 p.m. at the McSwain Center, to be held prior to the county’s budget discussions.

* Approved the public listing of a small strip of land on Greenwood Elementary School’s campus the board is considering selling.

* Honored SanLee Middle School P.E. teacher Chris Jaggers for having the Website of the Month.

* Approved the consent agenda.

* Approved the first reading of several policy changes.

* Heard a public plea from Victoria Holt, a sophomore who transfered from Southern Lee High School to Lee County High School this year but is being kept from playing softball because she transfered. She said she has a shot at playing softball in college, but if the board doesn’t grant her special permission to play this year, her chances at an athletic scholarship could suffer.