MONROE — County Manager Cindy Coto took the witness stand on Friday for the fifth day during the trial between Union County and Union County Public Schools.
Under questioning by UCPS attorney Richard Schwartz, Coto gave details on the county’s funding formula for school operations and its school capital improvement plan.
County officials touted the funding formula as a “collaborative” effort between both parties to better serve residents. But Schwartz argued that it was an insufficient funding formula the county imposed on the school district without its input or consent.
Instead of improving the budget process, the county gave little to no consideration to school budget needs, Schwartz said.
“The funding formula was adopted and in place before the commissioners received the budget listing the school system’s needs. Is that correct?” he asked.
“Yes sir,” Coto said after a long pause.
Schwartz noted that the adopted formula was unchanged from the amount
UCPS Board of Education Chairman Richard Yercheck said was insufficient during a Feb. 15 meeting between county and school administrators and chairmen of both boards.
County leaders urged UCPS officials to “give-and-take” early in the recession. In Fiscal Year 2011-12, the county gave UCPS no capital outlay funds because of a projected defecit. But at the end of the fiscal year, the county collected an additional $15 million in revenue. Schwartz asked Coto if the county was obligated to give any to UCPS.
No, she replied
In 2012-2013, the county gave UCPS $1.6 million to keep teaching assistants. But when the state later provided the same amount to UCPS for TAs, the schools returned the county’s $1.6 million. Coto agreed with Schwartz’s statement that UCPS was not legally obligated to give the money back to the county.
“They did anyway because that was part of the deal, wasn’t it?” he asked.
“It’s what they agreed to, yes,” she said.
He asked Coto about her knowledge of specific language used in state statues about school funding. He asked if she investigated how UCPS developed its budget. He quizzed her on whether the UCPS budget message submitted the county was in accordance with the state law’s requirement of a concise explanation of educational goals to justify funding increases.
In each case, Coto responded that she had limited knowledge of how school funding worked overall, and little more about UCPS funding specifically. Schwartz noted her testimony the day before when she stated UCPS did not use a zero-based budget. She said it appeared to her that school officials added amounts onto last year’s budget and handed it off to the county. Then she said she had no information on how UCPS developed its budget.
“So basically, you don’t know very much at all about how the school system goes about developing its budget and what items it examines or what goes into developing this proposal, do you?” Schwartz said.
“I have limited knowledge, yes,” she said.
“So you have no basis on which to suggest that they just began with last year’s and added to it, do you?” he said.
“As I stated from this exhibit, it appears that their appropriations started with what we gave them last year and added to it. I believe that’s what I stated,” Coto said.