According to Article IX, Section 7 of the Constitution of North Carolina the state’s public schools shall receive ‘the clear proceeds of all penalties, forfeitures and fines collected in the several counties for any breach of the penal laws of the state.’ That sounds simple enough. In reality, it isn’t quite so cut and dried. Even in these times of financial slow down, the state’s public schools still must educate the youth of the state. Fines and forfeitures reduce the taxpayer burden by supplementing the revenue available to the schools, much like the State education lottery does. Herein lies the rub: the fines and forfeitures have to be collected.
Here’s a question that every voter should ask every candidate for any judicial position (judge, clerk of court, or district attorney): Will you prudently, but rigorously impose fines as proscribed by law on accused lawbreakers who are found guilty in trial proceedings? This is a necessary question of judicial demeanor. Even a cursory review of trial proceedings in this county shows how frequently fines are waived for offenses, despite findings of guilt. This is especially true of cases involving plea bargains in which multiple charges with a guilty plea are reassigned to a single charge, with the other criminal charges being dismissed. Not only is the criminal allowed to avoid the additional convictions, but also to avoid the fines associated with those charges. How many thousands of dollars are lost to the schools because of this practice? Defense attorneys seem to be meeting the desires of their clients, but are prosecutors and trial judges meeting the needs of their clients, the tax paying public?
This past year the Lee County Board of Education increased the annual stipend of its consulting attorney, Jimmy Love, by some $10,000. They did this because of the attorney’s contention that he now had to spend time participating in bond forfeiture hearings to protect the schools’ interests. Strange, this isn’t something new, unless he was never monitoring forfeiture proceedings on his previous stipend and the LCBOE wasn’t keeping up with its own requirements. Even with his newly increased stipend, how many property seizures or foreclosures have been conducted to ensure that all monies die the Lee County Schools have been conducted?
School funding is once again an issue in our annual budget cycle. Truly, it’s time for every person who has a role in the funding process to do what is required to help this school system and the county pay for our essential services. After all, isn’t everything we do ‘for the children’ ?