Schools don’t like it if you turn in your homework late – and, apparently, Guilford County commissioners don’t like it when the school system and the consultants they hired turn in their study results late.
About a year ago, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners agreed to split the cost of the roughly $1-million study with the schools and at that time the commissioners were told to expect the results by September. Now, however, it’s nearly 2019 and several commissioners said this week that they hadn’t even gotten an update on the status of the study.
The county commissioners are eager to see the results because in mid-2018 the board – in a move spearheaded by Commissioner Justin Conrad – agreed to raise up to $10 million through the sale of two-thirds bonds to help address school security needs to be revealed in the study. Two-thirds bonds are a type of bond that don’t require voter approval but is limited to a maximum of two-thirds of the amount of debt the local government paid off in the previous year. Guilford County is eligible to raise up to $57 million in two-thirds bonds in the current fiscal year which ends June 30, 2019.
When Conrad proposed that the money be raised, the funds were to be used to address the findings in the study from Tallahassee-based MGT Consulting Group. But the county has yet to see those findings.
“It’s frustrating,” Conrad said. “We spend a half-million dollars and we haven’t seen the results we were expecting in September.”
The commissioners did get some information at a joint school/county committee meeting in October but at that time school officials and Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne bent over backwards to explain that the findings were highly preliminary. Some commissioners said they believed the only reason some early results were given at that time is that the commissioners were already grumbling about the matter in October.
County Commissioner Hank Henning expressed his concerns at that time. He said he wanted to be certain that county commissioners had the same access to the results that school system officials did and he added that he didn’t want school officials to get the results, tweak them or “spin” them and only then present them to commissioners.
Henning said this week that he’s more concerned than ever.
“I don’t know what the problem is, but it is frustrating,” Henning said.
Henning said one point of the study is, in addition to security needs, to shed light on the problem of over-utilized and under-utilized schools and he said that step had to be taken before the county started shelling out money for capital projects. According to Henning, the expenditure of money on capital needs can only come after two other steps. He said first the schools must examine their space utilization issues. Second, he said, school officials have to take the tough step of student reassignment to fix the problem.
“I know it’s painful but it hasn’t taken place in 15 years,” Henning said.
Some schools are way over capacity while others are significantly under utilized and Henning said that only after the reassignments take place can the commissioners start to talk about funding capital projects.
“Thencomes putting forward money on capital needs,” he said. “I hope there’s not this idea that we are going to get the results and then just throw money at the schools to address the problem. I’m taking a very business-like approach and you can’t do step three without steps one and two.”
Conrad said this week that he hopes school officials aren’t trying to massage the data before turning it over to the commissioners.
“I want to be clear that I don’t know that that is happening,” Conrad said, “But it would be concerning if it did occur.”
School officials maintain that it is an important and extensive study that’s just taking time to get right. They say school staff and county staff have been in communication on the matter.
Guilford County Schools Chief of Staff Nora Carr wrote in an email that those talks are ongoing.
“I know that County leadership staff met with our team a week or two ago to discuss this,” she wrote.