Originally created 06/14/06

School funding case is likely headed to court

ATLANTA - Negotiations have broken down between state officials and a group of school districts suing to force additional education funding, meaning the case will now almost certainly be resolved in court, the districts announced.

The Consortium for Adequate School Funding, which includes the McDuffie County school system, said Tuesday that the state had refused a settlement offer and brought in a law firm that specializes in education-finance lawsuits.

"There's no way to interpret that other than (as) a declaration of war," said Joe Martin, the consortium's executive director.

The districts and the state had been holding behind-the-scenes talks for months aimed at defusing the lawsuit through an out-of-court settlement. But after three months of consideration, the state rejected an offer by the school districts, Mr. Martin said.

"Bottom line is, we thought we could work out something," he said. "We've now been rebuffed. ... I'm sorry that it's taken this turn, because it didn't have to go that way."

According to the consortium, the state will underfund education by more than $1 billion in the spending year that begins July 1. The state budget for that year includes $7.2 billion for the state Department of Education.

Mr. Martin said the state asked the consortium to wait for the outcome of the Education Finance Task Force convened by Gov. Sonny Perdue. But Mr. Martin said he has little faith the panel will be able to address the issues the consortium is pressing.

The task force is expected to make some recommendations by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, law firm Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan has begun representing the state at conferences between attorneys for the two sides and the judge in the case, Mr. Martin said.

Heather Hedrick, a spokeswoman for Mr. Perdue, wouldn't comment specifically on Mr. Martin's description of the case.

"The state has always taken the case and these claims very seriously," she said.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at (404) 681-1701 or brandon.larrabee@morris.com.


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