Union County Public Schools has scored a victory. After a two-month long trial, a jury has decided Union County owes the district a whopping $91 million.
“To be perfectly honest, I’m in awe and humbled at the number,” says school board chairman Richard Yercheck.
“I think whoever tells you they’re not surprised at a verdict of $91 million would be lying to you,” says attorney Richard Schwartz who represented the district.
To put that number in perspective, this court case started off over an $8 million budget dispute. The school board said the district needed that much more in this year’s county budget to properly operate. The two sides tried mediation and, when that didn’t work, the district took the county to court. That changed the argument a bit.
“We presented the actual needs rather than what the board of education thought the commissioners might be willing to actually fund,” says Schwartz.
The school board has long argued the county was underfunding the schools. So the district showed the jury studies of all the building projects that went unfunded since 2008 when the county made big cuts to the school’s budget.
“We’ve got leaky roofs. We’ve got buildings with asbestos. We’ve got buildings where children in wheelchairs can’t get into the restrooms,” says Yercheck.
Schwartz argued the county had plenty of money to pay for those repairs. The county’s lawyers said the county did not have any extra money and would have to raise taxes or cut services to give more to the schools.
Schwartz says most of the $91 million would go to improve school buildings and about $5 million would go to the district’s general fund.
County Commission Chairman Jerry Simpson did not want to speak on tape before the board meets this morning. But he said he’s not sure how the county will come up with that money. The county has 30 days to appeal the verdict.