HCPS offers feel $1.5 million light

Published 12:22 pm Monday, September 29, 2008

WINTON – ‘Give us our money.’

That statement rang loud and clear here Monday night at the regular monthly meeting of the Hertford County Board of Education.

The discussion came about after Hertford County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Basham reminded the board of Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning’s ruling last month in which he determined the state of North Carolina owes local school districts $747 million in back civil penalties.

School board member David Shields remarked, “This county deserves its share of that money to help our kids, just like all the other counties do.”

He added, “Any time citizens see Representative (Annie) Mobley or Senator (Ed) Jones, they need to tell them to give us that money. Our voice counts, yes, but voters do too.”

Board member John Horton noted, “We’ve been talked about by Manning before, but now he’s on our side and has said we’re owed money. We’ve done a good job… give us our money.”

Manning’s August ruling determined that state agencies had wrongly held on to civil penalties for nearly a decade, totaling $750 million. Manning said that money should be distributed among the state’s school districts based on population.

Hertford County’s share of the money would come to $1.5 million. However, Manning noted he does not have the authority to directly order the North Carolina General Assembly to put the money in a fund for the schools to access.

In his ruling, Judge Manning wrote, “Ultimately, it is the General Assembly that will decide whether to appropriate sufficient funds to allow them to make the required payments without disrupting their ongoing operations.”

Six weeks have passed since Manning’s ruling and so far the state has done nothing to comply with the order.

Local officials fear that the state will largely ignore the order, or brush off the money as already paid via other methods.

“I hope they don’t supplant the money… it needs to be in addition to what we’re already given and distributed out the way it was intended,” Basham told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald in a later interview.

The money is currently earmarked for use on technology only, but Basham stated that it was the desire of the school system to have alternate allowable uses for the funds as well.

“We have more technology already in Hertford County than any other county in eastern North Carolina… we don’t need more technology; we need things like additional library books,” Basham noted.

He continued, “They should give us some flexibility in what the money could be used for.”

The only course of action for local school systems now is to continue to contact state legislators, request the funds be released and hope for the best.