Judge Rules for Chester in Mitford Case

After more than two years of litigation and nearly $2 million in invoices from the Chester County School District, a Fifth Circuit Court judge handed down a ruling Monday afternoon in what has commonly become known as the “Mitford Case.”

Judge J. Ernest Kinard ruled Monday in favor of Chester County Schools and against the Fairfield County School District in the two-year battle over who should pay for students living in the Mitford area of Fairfield County and attending schools in the Great Falls area of Chester County. Judge Kinard also authorized the Fairfield County Treasurer to release to Chester County Schools nearly $2 million in funds, for which Chester has invoiced Fairfield since the 2009-2010 school year and which had been held by the Treasurer by order of the Court.

The lawsuit was brought by the Fairfield County School District in June of 2010 following an act of local legislation providing for the continued funding of the approximately 200 Mitford area students who attend Chester County Schools. The District’s lawsuit claimed the legislation, introduced and passed by Sen. Creighton Coleman and Rep. Boyd Brown in the spring of 2010, was unconstitutional in that it conflicted with general law as set forth by Article III, Section 34 of the S.C. State Constitution.

In his ruling Judge Kinard noted that Article III “generally prohibits special legislation where a general law can be made to apply,” but also said that “the prohibition of special legislation is not absolute, and special legislation is not unconstitutional where the General Assembly has a logical basis and sound reason for resorting to special legislation.”

Kinard’s ruling stated that the Fairfield County School District “presented no evidence” that the General Assembly had abused its discretion in enacting this special legislation. The ruling also stated that the General Assembly did, in fact, have “a logical basis and sound reason” for enacting the special law.

“I think it’s a fair ruling,” Coleman said Tuesday afternoon. “It seems to me that the Fairfield County School District could have come to the table and could have resolved it a lot easier and a lot cheaper for the taxpayers, but they chose to litigate it.”

The ruling details some of the circumstances that led up to the litigation, particularly that, for several decades between 100 and 200 students living in the Mitford area have attended Chester County Schools and, since at least 1973, the two districts had agreed upon a financial arrangement in order to cover the cost of educating those students. That agreement began breaking down in 2007, the Court document states, and finally ended in the 2009-2010 school year when no agreement was reached. Prior to that time, the Fairfield County School District had transferred $25,000 annually to Chester County Schools to help offset the cost of educating Mitford students.

The ruling also notes that, on May 21, 2010, Annie McDaniel, then Chairwoman of the Fairfield County School Board, wrote to Sen. Coleman “and made clear (the Fairfield County School District) had no agreement with (Chester County Schools) for payments to educate the Mitford students and that (the Fairfield County School District) ‘does not pay tuition for students desiring to attend schools out of the District’.”

Because of that stance by the Fairfield County School District, the court document states, the General Assembly enacted special legislation to provide for the Mitford students.

Kinard’s ruling also stated that, based on Fairfield County’s local per student funding level of $8,875 versus Chester County’s local per student funding level of $3,452, Chester County Schools are “not unduly profiting” from the arrangement and Fairfield County Schools are not being “unreasonably burdened.”

“(The Fairfield County School District) is actually spending over $5,000 less per student than its per student revenue,” the ruling states.

Under the Coleman-Brown special legislation, the Chester County School District is to be reimbursed by Fairfield County Schools based on Chester County’s level of local per pupil funding.

Andrea Harrison, current Chairwoman of the Fairfield County School Board, declined comment on the ruling at press time.