488 S.E.2d 249 (N.C. 1997), 179PA96, Leandro v. State

Docket Nº:179PA96.
Citation:488 S.E.2d 249, 346 N.C. 336
Party Name:Kathleen M. LEANDRO, individually and as guardian ad litem of Robert A. Leandro; Steven R. Sunkel, individually and as guardian ad litem for Andrew J. Sunkel; Clarence L. Pender, individually and as guardian ad litem of Schnika N. Pender; Tyrone T. Williams, individually and as guardian ad litem of Trevelyn L. Williams; D.E. Locklear, Jr., individu
Case Date:July 24, 1997
Court:Supreme Court of North Carolina
 
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Page 249

488 S.E.2d 249 (N.C. 1997)

346 N.C. 336

Kathleen M. LEANDRO, individually and as guardian ad litem

of Robert A. Leandro; Steven R. Sunkel, individually and as

guardian ad litem for Andrew J. Sunkel; Clarence L. Pender,

individually and as guardian ad litem of Schnika N. Pender;

Tyrone T. Williams, individually and as guardian ad litem of

Trevelyn L. Williams; D.E. Locklear, Jr., individually and

as guardian ad litem of Jason E. Locklear; Angus B.

Thompson, II, individually and as guardian ad litem of

Vandaliah J. Thompson; Jennie G. Pearson, individually and

as guardian ad litem of Sharese D. Pearson; Wayne Tew,

individually and as guardian ad litem of Natosha L. Tew;

Dana Holton Jenkins, individually and as guardian ad litem

of Rachel M. Jenkins; Floyd Vick, individually and as

guardian ad litem of Ervin D. Vick; Hoke County Board of

Education; Halifax County Board of Education; Robeson

County Board of Education; Cumberland County Board of

Education; Vance County Board of Education, Plaintiffs,

and

Cassandra Ingram, individually and as guardian ad litem of

Darris Ingram; Carol Penland, individually and as guardian

ad litem of Jeremy Penland; Darlene Harris, individually

and as guardian ad litem of Shamek Harris; Nettie Thompson,

individually and as guardian ad litem of Annette Renee

Thompson; David Martinez, individually and as guardian ad

litem of Daniela Martinez; Ophelia Aiken, individually and

as guardian ad litem of Brandon Bell; Asheville City Board

of Education; Buncombe County Board of Education;

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education; Durham Public

Schools Board of Education; Wake County Board of Education;

Winston Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education,

Plaintiffs-Intervenors,

v.

STATE of North Carolina; State Board of Education, Defendants.

No. 179PA96.

Supreme Court of North Carolina.

July 24, 1997

Page 250

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Parker, Poe, Adams & Bernstein L.L.P. by Robert W. Spearman and Robert H. Tiller, Raleigh; and Hux, Livermon & Armstrong by H. Lawrence Armstrong, Jr., Enfield, for plaintiffs-appellants and -appellees.

Smith Helms Mulliss & Moore, L.L.P. by Richard W. Ellis, Raleigh, for plaintiffs-intervenors-appellants and -appellees.

Michael F. Easley, Attorney General by Edwin M. Speas, Jr., Senior Deputy Attorney General, and Ronald M. Marquette and Tiare B. Smiley, Special Deputy Attorneys General, for defendants-appellants -appellees.

North Carolina School Boards Association by Ann W. McColl, Raleigh, amicus curiae.

Petree Stockton, L.L.P. by M. Gray Styers, Jr., Raleigh, on behalf of Eastern North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, amicus curiae.

North Carolina Education and Law Project by Gregory C. Malhoit, Carlene McNulty and Stephon J. Bowens, Raleigh; and Legal Services of North Carolina by Deborah M. Weissman and John Vail, Raleigh, amici curiae.

Everett, Gaskins, Hancock & Stevens by William G. Hancock, Hugh Stevens and Jeffrey B. Parsons, Raleigh, on behalf of the North Carolina Low Wealth Schools Funding and Equalization Consortium and Education: Everybody's Business Coalition, amicus curiae.

Smith, Anderson, Blount, Dorsett, Mitchell & Jernigan, L.L.P. by Michael Weddington, B. Davis Horne, Jr. and Robert J. Morris, Raleigh, on behalf of the Small Rural School Consortium, amicus curiae.

John Charles Boger, Chapel Hill; Ferguson, Stein, Wallas, Adkins, Gresham & Sumter, P.A. by Ann Hubbard, Chapel Hill; and Debra K. Ross, Legal Director, Raleigh, on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, amicus curiae.

MITCHELL, Chief Justice.

Plaintiffs originally brought this action in Halifax County. Defendants moved for a transfer of venue to Wake County contending[346 N.C. 342] that under N.C.G.S. § 1-77(2), Wake County was the only proper venue for this action against public officers. Judge E.

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Maurice Braswell entered an order on 19 January 1995 transferring venue to Wake County and directing that all papers relating to this suit be forwarded to the Clerk of Superior Court for Wake County.

Plaintiffs in this action for declaratory and injunctive relief are students and their parents or guardians from the relatively poor school systems in Cumberland, Halifax, Hoke, Robeson, and Vance Counties and the boards of education for those counties. Plaintiff-intervenors are students and their parents or guardians from the relatively large and wealthy school systems of the City of Asheville and of Buncombe, Wake, Forsyth, Mecklenburg, and Durham Counties and the boards of education for those systems. Both plaintiffs and plaintiff-intervenors (hereinafter "plaintiff-parties" when referred to collectively) allege in their complaints in the case resulting in this appeal that they have a right to adequate educational opportunities which is being denied them by defendants under the current school funding system. Plaintiff-parties also allege that the North Carolina Constitution not only creates a fundamental right to an education, but it also guarantees that every child, no matter where he or she resides, is entitled to equal educational opportunities. Plaintiff-parties allege that defendants have denied them this right.

Plaintiffs allege that children in their poor school districts are not receiving a sufficient education to meet the minimal standard for a constitutionally adequate education. Plaintiffs further allege that children in their districts are denied an equal education because there is a great disparity between the educational opportunities available to children in their districts and those offered in more wealthy districts of our state. Plaintiffs allege that their districts lack the necessary resources to provide fundamental educational opportunities for their children due to the nature of the state's system of financing education and the burden it places on local governments. They allege that the state leaves the funding of capital expenses, as well as twenty-five percent of current school expenses, to local governments. They further allege that although their poor districts are the beneficiaries of higher local tax rates than many wealthy school districts, those higher rates cannot make up for their lack of resources or for the disparities between systems. Plaintiffs also allege that students in their poor school districts are not receiving the education called for by the Basic Education Program, part of the statutory framework for providing education to the children of this state.

[346 N.C. 343] Plaintiffs complain of inadequate school facilities with insufficient space, poor lighting, leaking roofs, erratic heating and air conditioning, peeling paint, cracked plaster, and rusting exposed pipes. They allege that their poor districts' media centers have sparse and outdated book collections and lack the technology present in the wealthier school districts. They complain that they are unable to compete for high quality teachers because local salary supplements in their poor districts are well below those provided in wealthy districts. Plaintiffs allege that this relative inability to hire teachers causes the number of students per teacher to be higher in their poor districts than in wealthy districts.

Plaintiffs allege that college admission test scores and yearly aptitude test scores reflect both the inadequacy and the disparity in education received by children in their poor districts. Plaintiffs allege that end-of-grade tests show that the great majority of students in plaintiffs' districts are failing in basic subjects.

Plaintiff-intervenors allege that the current state educational funding system does not sufficiently take into consideration the burdens faced by their urban school districts, which must educate a large number of students with extraordinary educational needs. In particular, plaintiff-intervenors claim that their school districts have a large number of students who require special education services, special English instruction, and academically gifted programs. They allege that providing these services requires plaintiff-intervenor school boards to divert substantial resources from their regular education programs.

Plaintiff-intervenors contend that defendants, the State of North Carolina and the

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State Board of Education, have violated the North Carolina Constitution and chapter 115C of the North Carolina General Statutes by failing to ensure that their relatively wealthy school districts have sufficient resources to provide all of their students with adequate and equal educational opportunities. In addition, plaintiff-intervenors claim that the state's singling out of certain poor rural districts to receive supplemental state funds, while failing to recognize comparable if not greater needs in the urban school districts, is arbitrary and capricious in violation of the North Carolina Constitution and state law. Plaintiff-intervenors allege that deficiencies in physical facilities and educational materials are particularly significant in their systems because most of the growth in North Carolina's student population is taking place in urban areas such as those served by plaintiff-intervenor school boards. They claim that [346 N.C. 344] their urban districts must serve a disproportionate number of children who due to poverty, language barriers, or other handicaps, require special resources. They allege that because urban counties have high levels of poverty, homelessness, crime, unmet health care needs, and unemployment which drain their fiscal resources, they cannot allocate as large a portion of their local tax revenues to public education as can the more rural poor...

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