Lee no longer included in proposed N.C. law

Bill would have prevented BOE from suing county
Jun. 13, 2014 @ 04:58 AM

Lee County has been scrubbed from a bill that would have prevented the school board from suing the county over improper funding after local school leaders questioned both its motives and constitutionality.

Lee Superintendent Andy Bryan, though, said Wednesday he's not sure if the Lee County Board of Education's unanimous opposition played a role in the change. No one associated with the schools has claimed knowledge of why Lee County was originally included in the bill, which originated in the N.C. House, or why it was subsequently taken out, Bryan said.

He said he sent an email to the committee looking the bill over on Tuesday and heard back simply that he shouldn't be concerned anymore because Lee County wouldn't be affected. Jimmy Love, the school board's attorney and a former legislator himself, said he's also unsure about the background of the bill, which he called a mystery.

On the other side of the bill, the Lee County government staff was equally in the dark.

"I don't know how we got in there, but we did get removed," County Manager John Crumpton said.

Crumpton also said he's not sure if the county should be afraid of a lawsuit by the school system, although he thinks relations between the two boards are better than to expect one with no warning.

"I think that's a question you've got to ask them," he said when asked if the county might see a lawsuit over funding in the near future. "I don't foresee it, though."

Lee County Schools has never sued the county, although Love said they have threatened a few times in the past. But he said he wouldn't even necessarily be opposed to getting rid of the law that allows for that option. Love's main issue with this recent bill, he said, was that it singled out only Lee, Harnett and three other counties for a ban — creating one legal reality for those five counties and a different one for the state's other 95 counties.

"I just don't like the way they did it, hijacking the other bill and putting in those five counties ... and we never were told why," he said.

The bill, House Bill 292, previously was about music therapy but gutted in committee and replaced with the language banning lawsuits. In the most recent version of the bill, passed by the House and now into the Senate, it would only apply in Union County — where the school board recently did sue the local county government, winning a $91 million judgment.

Crumpton said the commissioners were, in his opinion, rightfully concerned about such a large sum and the way it came to be, with a jury overruling elected officials' decisions on monetary policy.

For that reason, Crumpton said, he believes the resolution the commissioners passed in favor of the bill when it still included Lee County was not out of fear of an impending suit, but rather, "our interest in the bill was more in a statewide interest."