Jan 152014

Tucker implores state to run Union County DSS until it is ‘on solid footing’

By David Perlmutt

Posted: Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014

A visibly angry N.C. Sen. Tommy Tucker implored state health officials Tuesday to temporarily intervene in the “day-to-day operations” of Union County’s social services department after a shocking child abuse case that involved one of the agency’s own.

Tucker told state DSS Director Wayne Black at a legislative hearing that his office needs “to dive in” to the county agency while authorities investigate the handcuffing of an 11-year-old boy to the porch of his guardian’s Monroe-area home – with a dead chicken around his neck. Wanda Larson, a county child protective services supervisor who apparently is the boy’s legal guardian, and her longtime boyfriend were arrested in November and indicted a month later on child abuse charges.

Authorities removed the boy and four other adopted children, ages 7 to 14, from the home and placed them in the charge of Davidson County DSS. Larson also was fired by the county.

Tucker, a Waxhaw Republican who represents Union County, was incredulous after Black told a joint committee of lawmakers that his office doesn’t have the authority to intervene in Union County. Black said the county Human Services Department director requested the state investigate its operations, identify any deficiencies and make recommendations. DSS is part of the Human Services Department.

By law, Black said the state could only take over if Union’s human services and DSS directors weren’t cooperative, and they found children in danger.

But Tucker argued that DSS has had considerable changeover in leadership in the past three years and that Union County commissioners dissolved an advisory board to the Human Services Department.

“I don’t know what urgency it takes that the state doesn’t need to dive in and run that agency day to day,” he told Black during the Raleigh hearing. “The board’s been dissolved and you’ve got county commissioners that do not know the system … now taking charge. You’re leaving the county … to police itself and you’re going to take a hands-off approach because there is no state statute?

“Forgive me, sir, this is unbelievable; it’s unconscionable that this could happen.”

Commissioners chairman Frank Aikmus declined to comment.

via Tucker implores state to run Union County DSS until it is ‘on solid footing’ | CharlotteObserver.com.


 Posted by at 11:54 am
Sep 012013

DPI director: State directs school spending, not locals

By Heather Smith

MONROE — The funding trial between Union County and Union County Public Schools continued with testimony about how the N.C. Department of Public Instruction decides how much money each school district receives annually.

Court began Friday with testimony from N.C. Department of Public Instruction Director of School Business Alexis Schauss. UCPS attorney Richard Schwartz had her explain a bar graph of per-pupil funding. Where fiscal year 2009 was almost exclusively paid for with state funds, the graph indicated that federal and local funding made up larger and larger amounts of the total school budget in the following years. Instead of school spending increasing in recent years to keep up with the increase in students, Schwartz noted the amount has risen little.

“The total funding has not kept up with the growth in students,” Schauss said.

In this year’s budget, Union County commissioners approved 89.4 percent of the UCPS request for things falling under the 6000 purpose code series the state uses to categorize costs. She also explained that utility and maintenance costs made up a large portion of the 6000 series costs.

“Can Union County use state money to pay for maintenance and utilities?” Schwartz asked.

“No,” Schauss said.

Her testimony also explained that annual budget planning for the next fiscal year begins in February when DPI statisticians calculate the best estimate of how much each school district needs for the upcoming year.

“There are no funds there. There’s no authority. It is just a document,” Schauss said.

During this step, the state uses estimated student enrollment to determine the number of teachers the district will need. Schauss said local staffing is decided by DPI, not the school district. When the state funds the number of employees it determines is appropriate for the district, the money is not given to the district. The money is assigned for the purpose of paying teachers and administrators.

The average payroll cost of those employees is calculated and added to the estimate to transport and feed the students and provide for any special needs. Schools provide instruction for students who qualify as “exceptional children.” They range from children with mild behavioral problems and learning disabilities to those with profound developmental disabilities, blindness, autism and paralysis. Most have a written curriculum plans.

The estimates, called a planning allotment, also considers any past legislative changes in effect then, though the General Assembly passes several changes affecting school funding later in the spring.

“We run those current year formulas to give a starting point of if formulas continue the same way they have in the past, here is your updated funding number,” Schauss said.

Formulas and funding totals never stay the same year to year, she said. Changes in the economy, county student population, tax collection rates, decisions by the legislature and several other criteria mean school budgets are built from the ground up annually.

This year, DPI calculated UCPS’s average daily membership at 40,797. That qualified them for $208,179,152. But that amount is not what school districts should base their budget planning on, Schauss said. Formula deductions needed to be removed from that total.

The planning allotment is DPI staff’s best guess at funding. No number is solid until the General Assembly passes its budget. This year, it passed and was signed by Gov. Pat McCrory in July. Days later, DPI staff had calculated a budget appropriation for each school district. Still, this amount – called the initial allotment – is not the final number, Schauss said. It is simply the first official numbers.

Student enrollment, the number of students entering charter or virtual schools, transportation costs and a host of other criteria cannot be determined until school starts. For the first ten days of school, the district budget is revised many times by DPI based on data from different districts.

Until this year, school districts had LEA adjustments, mandatory budget reductions to reduce the overall state education budget. The state faced large budget shortfalls in recent past. School officials had to make its costs fit what the state could afford to give them, so DPI staff calculated how much less each school district’s budget must be to comply.

“It was a budget mechanism to take cuts from school districts, but it provided them some flexibility as to where they wanted those cuts,” Schauss said.  

Schools could choose to cut teaching assistants, teachers or anything else with a smaller impact on school operations.

Based on this formula, DPI calculated UCPS’s cuts would be about $10,162,182 back in February. That brought the total estimated funding to $198,016,970.

But later in the spring, the General Assembly chose to stop LEA adjustments and mandated where the cuts had to be made based on the average of where school districts cut funding in the past. State funding for classroom teachers, instructional materials and instructional support were reduced for all school districts in the state.

DPI revised UCPS’s planning allotment later in the year to reflect the changes. The new estimated budget appropriation for local schools fell to a total of $193,491,814, Schauss said.

She testified that County Finance Director Jeff Yates contacted DPI allotment division staff to ask about the planning allotment. She explained that Yates’ original calculation for how much schools would receive from the state was wrong because it assumed the LEA reduction was added back onto the estimated total.

Schwartz presented her with a Union County press release from July 31 that stated DPI’s analysis of the new state budget found UCPS would get $5.6 million more than first expected.

“Is this statement accurate? That Union County would see an increase of $5.64 million more than the $198 million figure?” Schwartz said.

“No,” Schauss said.

“Did the Department of Public Instruction ever indicate that in any analysis?” Schwartz said.

“No,” Schauss said.

“Would any such analysis from the Department of Public Instruction have come out of your division?” he asked.

“No,” she said.

“If there was such an analysis, would it have come out of your division?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” she said.

“Is this a true statement or a false statement at the bottom of this county press release with regard to analysis by the Department of Public Instruction indicating that Union County would see an increase of $5.6 million?” he said.

There was no analysis that showed that,” she said. “It is incorrect.”

Schwartz pointed out the same statement in the Aug. 6 Union Update newsletter produced by the county. Schauss said there was no analysis done by then either, so the county’s statement was still incorrect.

“Now, in opening statements, there was a statement made that Union County Public Schools has 560 administrative personnel not counting those at the school level,” Schwartz said. “Does that sound like its possible from your perspective?”

No,” Schauss said, laughing. “That’s, uh, no. That would be an enormous number.”

“Does the Department of Public Instruction keep track of central office administrators and their numbers at different school systems?” Schwartz asked.

“We do and we publish that,” Schauss said.

Schwartz presented the court with a screenshot of the UCPS statistical profile found on the DPI website. He asked Schauss to read from the exhibit the number of UCPS administrators employed during the 2012-2013 school year. It was 27, she said, three less than the previous school year.

via DPI director: State directs school spending, not locals | The Enquirer Journal.

(Readers Please  Note: Emphasized text was added by VSO)

Readers Note: the following document was referred to in the testimony above.

August 6 Union Update


August 6, 2013


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Get the Library’s Monthly Program Guide
Sign up to receive the Union County Public Library’s monthly program guide via your email by contacting Shelley Fearn, Reader’s Services Librarian, at


Featured Library Programs
Sunday, August 11
2:15 p.m.

Marshville Library

Deputy Mark Helms of the
Union County Sheriff’s
Office will discuss
moonshiners in Union
County from the past to
the present! No registration


Adult Tutors Needed


Take the first step by attending Literacy Council 101 on one of these dates:



Tuesday, Aug. 13

6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Tuesday, Sept. 9

6 p.m. – 8 p.m.


Tuesday, Oct. 22

6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

For more information, contact

the Literacy Council of Union County at 704-226-1425 or







Open House/Ask a Master Gardener


Saturday, August 17

8:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.

Teaching Gardens

Union County Ag.Center

Presson Road in Monroe

Union County Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners are beginning a series of Open House/Ask a Master Gardener programs that will take place on the third Saturday of each month.

Bring your questions and come see what we’re doing in the gardens. If you have questions, email  ucmgwebsite@gmail.com.



Union County Public Schools Failed
to Resolve Budget Dispute


On June 17, the Union County Board of Commissioners adopted an FY 2014 budget that provided an additional $1.47 million in operating

resources and $3 million of capital funding as part of a six-year $18 million schools capital program. In FY 2014, the total county cost for Union County Public Schools is $133 million, representing 56.9 percent of the county general fund budget.

“We believe the adopted budget represents an affordable, fiscally
sustainable financial plan for the residents of Union County,” said Chairman Jerry Simpson. “Our residents and families cannot afford tax increases; this recession has had a significant negative impact.”

The school board contends that the $82.26 million allocated for operating expenses is insufficient to provide for a free public education. The parties completed the legally prescribed mediation process today without resolution.

As part of the mediation process, the school board proposed a funding plan that would provide an additional $1.9 million over three years for operation, in addition to the forecasted increases based on the existing funding formula. The proposal also requested an additional $26 million for capital over three years from FY 2014 to FY 2016.

The fiscal impact of the school board’s proposal generated an estimated cumulative deficit of $38.5 million over three years. To offset this request, by FY 2016, there would need to be a 10 percent tax rate increase, making the estimated effective tax rate 86.59 cents.

As of June 13, the county had $447.4 million of outstanding UCPS related debt.

“The school board’s proposal is not financially sustainable,” said Union County Manager Cindy Coto.

During the mediation process, the North Carolina General Assembly

adopted the state budget. Analysis by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction indicates that as part of the budgetary changes from the state’s adopted budget, UCPS will see an increase of $5.64 million more than what was originally planned for in the UCPS proposed budget.

During the mediation process, the county was forced to sue UCPS to gain access to public financial records. The records lawsuit remains pending.

Additionally, a review of records provided thus far identified concerns in the UCPS budget proposal and financial practices:

1. Although in FY 2011-12 salaries and benefits represented 59
percent of the UCPS budget, county staff was advised that no
personnel rosters or worksheets exist to determine the cost of


2. Although the proposed FY 2014 UCPS budget is $334 million, no

detailed budget work papers exist.

3. Although the county was advised that the central administration staff do not receive compensation beyond base salary and beyond the doctoral supplements, the Charlotte Observer’s website reports that the administrative cabinet, consisting of nine senior management

staff receive in excess of $169,000 in additional compensation.

4. Although the county was advised that the school board had not
requested additional staff in several budget years, from FY 2012 to
FY 2013, the UCPS web site represents that the number of
employees grew by 21.79 percent, or 971 positions.
A. 637 licensed and 334 non-licensed
B. During this same time period, enrollment grew by 1.48
percent. For every new student UCPS received, they added
1.62 new employees.
5. During FY 2013, the school board received a net of $12.8 million

increase in funding from the originally adopted budget.

6. From FY 2008 to FY 2012, on average funding for the support and
administration grew by more than twice the rate than local funding

for the classroom did.

Given the adopted county funding, adjustments in areas of the school

board’s budget that appears to be over inflated, increased state budget funding, and the UCPS local fund balance, the school board’s proposed budget has a projected surplus of $2.92 million, in FY 2014, over and above its needs.

“It’s is my hope that with a projected surplus of $2.92 million in 2014, that the school board would not move forward with suing the residents of Union County for more money,” said Chairman Jerry Simpson.

Following the end of mediation, the school board decided to sue the
residents of Union County for additional funding beyond the projected








 Posted by at 2:11 pm
Aug 122013

Acrimonious Union County budget fight heads to court Monday

By Adam Bell
Posted: Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013

The acrimonious budget fight between Union County commissioners and the school board is heading to court this week.

The trial begins Monday in Union County Superior Court, and could last a week or two.

The school board claims that commissioners did not adequately fund the school district for the current school year. The county insists it provided enough money, and that any additional money going to the board would result in tax hikes or service cuts.

In its lawsuit, the school board is seeking a judgment that may authorize commissioners to raise taxes “as may be necessary” to cover money awarded to the district.

The district also wants a jury to determine the amount of money “legally necessary from all sources” to maintain the school system. Such sources could include state or federal funds or proceeds from the state lottery or sales tax, said Richard Schwartz, a Raleigh attorney who represents the district.

In June, the school board had sought mediation after county commissioners approved their $298 million operating and capital budget for 2013-14. The budget included $82.3 million in general operating funds for the school district, or about $2.7 million less than the district wanted but a nearly 2 percent increase over the previous year.

The district also sought $8.4 million in capital funds; the county approved $9 million over three years.

In mediation, the school district proposed a settlement to get an additional $1.9 million over a three-year period for operating expenses, and another $26 million in capital funds during that time, on top of the funding it already was set to receive, the county said. Such a plan would create a $38.5 million deficit over three years, the county said, and require a whopping 10 percent tax increase.

The county disclosed the district’s plan after they reached an impasse in mediation, and included it in a press released with the headline: “Union County Public Schools Failed to Resolve Budget Dispute.”

At the time, the county also said the district had a projected surplus of $2.9 million when factoring in the county’s funding, the school district’s fund balance, adjustments for school board budget requests that appeared to be inflated, and increases in state funding that were finalized after mediation began.

The district’s press release after mediation ended blamed the county’s “failure of leadership” for publicly attacking the school system.

Schwartz called the $2.9 million figure “wildly inaccurate. They don’t understand the state budgeting process.” And he said the county’s description of the settlement offer was completely inaccurate.

Judge Erwin Spainhour, senior resident superior court judge in Cabarrus County, is expected to preside over the case.

As part of its lawsuit, the school district wants the county to cover the district’s legal fees, which Schwartz said was a standard request in such cases. Union County will be represented by county attorney Ligon Bundy and another lawyer in his office, Chris Cox.

The losing side has the option of going to the N.C. Court of Appeals.

The current state law dealing with school district funding disputes was enacted in 1997 and since then, no district has sought mediation more than Union’s. The district has sought mediation four times now.

Each of the other three times, in 1998, 2003 and 2007, the two sides settled the case before going to court although the 2007 deal resulted in a tax increase to cover increases in the district’s budget. It added nearly 3 cents to the tax rate, or nearly an extra $60 in taxes for someone with a $200,000 home.

via Acrimonious Union County budget fight heads to court Monday | CharlotteObserver.com.

 Posted by at 7:54 am
Jul 312013

UCPS Press Release:

July 31, 2013

Press Release

Contact: Rob Jackson, Chief Communications Officer (704) 296-5188

An impasse has been declared in the mediation between the Union County Board of Commissioners and School Board. By law, the School Board has five days within which to file a lawsuit. Following the failure of mediation, the Union County Office of the Commissioners and Manager issued a press release attacking the school system.

It is highly inappropriate, irregular andirresponsible for either side to release details of confidential proposals made during mediation. We are stunned that the County has chosen to do so and to blatantly misrepresent the School System’s position and proposals. The County’s press release appears to be a transparent attempt to prejudice any potential jury pool.

It truly represents a failure of leadership when County Commissioners and the County Manager choose to publicly attack their own school system for trying to meet the needs of its children and the expectations of its citizens.

What is abundantly clear from this process, and from the County’s press release, is that the County’s elected and appointed leaders lack a fundamental understanding of the School System’s needs and operations. We intend to prove our case in court, where the truth will come out.

The Union County Public School System is the engine driving this County’s growth and assuring its future prosperity. The citizens and children of Union County deserve better.


Union County Commissioner Press Release — July 13, 2013

Charlotte Observer: Impasse in Union County budget mediation

Readers do note the title of the Commissioner Press Release:
“Union County Public Schools Failed to Resolve Budget Dispute”
Apparently, the County Commissioners failed to recognize that both sides have to resolve a dispute!

 Posted by at 7:20 pm