On Tuesday, May 19, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners was in a work session discussing how to address the massive hit of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, outside, in front of the Old Guilford County Court House, a group of Guilford County Schools advocates holding up signs were instead interested in a subject the board will address on Thursday, May 21. The proposed $1.6 billion school bond referendum that school supporters want to see on the November ballot this year.

Members of that group had wished to deliver a petition with the names of citizens requesting that the Board of Commissioners approve the full amount. However, due to the fact that the county’s downtown buildings are closed to the public, a security guard delivered the paperwork to the commissioners, who were assembled in the third-floor conference room of the BB&T building right next to the old courthouse that serves as the nerve center of Guilford County government.

School bond referendums don’t go on the ballot unless they get approved by a majority of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, and, this year, the Board of Education requested that the huge bond be placed on the ballot so that the county’s voters can have their say as to whether the $1.6 billion is raised to address the many repair and construction needs of the school system.

After delaying the decision earlier this year due to the pandemic, the Board of Commissioners will now finally take – or, conceivably, not take – the first step in the somewhat involved process that requires a public hearing and approval by a financial oversight arm of the state of North Carolina – the Local Government Commission.

The motion on the agenda calls for the board to, “Direct county staff to prepare applications, resolutions, orders and publications to set a voter referendum on November 3, 2020 for school bonds.”

At the meeting, the board will also need to set a maximum amount for this year’s school bond referendum. Despite the pandemic and the uncertain economic future these days, the commissioners are expected to put a referendum of some amount on the ballot.

Guilford County Commissioner Skip Alston told the Rhino Times this week that he’s going to make a motion Thursday night for the Board of Commissioners to grant the request to put the $1.6 billion referendum on the ballot, and Alston said he’d already informed Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips of his intentions to make that motion.

Alston may make the motion and do so very loudly if he likes, but the board is ultimately controlled by five Republican commissioners who recently have been tossing around numbers of about half of that $1.6 billion in this major debate.

Commissioner Alan Branson said this week that he’s not sure what dollar amount the board will land on, but he is sure it won’t be $1.6 billion. Branson said the board needs to take a more “Pass as you go – pay as you need,” philosophy.

Branson also said he didn’t know the dollar amount the board will decide on, but added that it would be crazy, given the current state of the economy in Guilford County, to approve a $1.6 billion referendum.

“The sooner we get up and get back to work, the better off the county will be,” Branson said.