Brunswick school officials settle Charter Day School lawsuit

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Parents walk their child to his first day of kindergarten at Charter Day School last month. Charter Day reached a settlement agreement this week with Brunswick County Schools over unpaid reimbursements it claims it was owed. Courtesy photo.
Parents walk their child to his first day of kindergarten at Charter Day School last month. Charter Day reached a settlement agreement this week with Brunswick County Schools over unpaid reimbursements it claims it was owed. Courtesy photo.

After a years-long legal battle, the Brunswick County Board of Education and Charter Day School, Inc. have reached a settlement agreement over disputed reimbursements to the Leland-area school.

The parties agreed this week to a $605,379 settlement, to be paid to Charter Day School by Sept. 20, according to district spokeswoman Jessica Swencki. The charter had contended in its lawsuit that the district owed nearly $1.1 million in unpaid allocations of state per-pupil funding for the students in Brunswick County it served.

In 2011, the Charter Day School’s board of trustees filed suit against six surrounding school districts, claiming they miscalculated the per-pupil appropriations to the charter schools, as mandated by state law, since 2001. Charter Day is a collective of charter schools, owned and operated by The Roger Bacon Academy, that includes Douglass Academy in Wilmington, South Brunswick Charter near Southport and Columbus Charter in Whiteville.

Under N.C. General Statute 115, school districts must annually transfer, from local current expense funds, per-pupil expenditures for each student who attends a charter school instead of a traditional public school.

The per-pupil local current expense appropriation is determined by adding the total revenue–from federal, state and local sources to the previous year’s fund balance–and then subtracting the cost of textbooks. That amount is then divided by a school district’s student population.

Four of those lawsuits–those against Bladen, Pender, Columbus and Whiteville City school districts–had already been settled. Charter Day won its case against New Hanover County Schools in 2012 but the district fired back, taking the case to the N.C. Court of Appeals.

The district argued that the lower court was errant in including the entire fund balance in the calculations of the per pupil local current expense appropriation and by excluding pre-kindergarten students from those calculations. The N.C. Court of Appeals panel agreed, overturning the $138,879 judgment that Charter Day won against the New Hanover County school system.

Brunswick, too, had been fighting the lawsuit, refusing a settlement offer from Charter Day last year.

But this week, Swencki said the agreement “brings closure to a lengthy civil suit,” adding that the district had enough money in the current operating budget to pay the settlement without affecting instruction.

“The board is pleased that both parties have reached an amicable resolution,” she noted.

Charter Day School chairman Robert Spencer, too, was pleased with the outcome. He said the money from Brunswick County Schools would allow the school to “consider a number of technology projects and upgrades, much deserved by our students.”

A Charter Day School spokeswoman said the settlement amount covers reimbursements owed for 2007 through 2011, the span of years obligated by the statute of limitations.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.