Earlier this year it looked dead certain that the Guilford County Board of Commissioners was going to put a school bond referendum on the ballot in November of 2020.
But a lot of things looked dead certain a month and a half ago that are dead in the water now.
The Board of Commissioners was supposed to start that school bond referendum process in April, however, the board voted to delay the matter until Thursday, May 21, and that move has many wondering if – given the current economic challenges facing the Guilford County government – a school bond will be on the ballot in 2020.
Earlier this year, just days before the coronavirus threat suddenly shut the county, the country and the ACC tournament down, the Guilford County Board of Education voted to request that the Guilford County Board of Commissioners put a $1.6 billion bond referendum on the ballot. At that time, several county commissioners questioned the need for that amount in one bond offering. After the wholesale economic shutdown, those questions loom even larger.
The board has also put off the question of a proposed sales tax increase referendum to raise revenue. That was also supposed to be on the November ballot.
Guilford County Commissioner Hank Henning has stated the situation the most succinctly.
“We had to table the school bond and the sales tax [referendum] to pay for it, because we all realize that all of our models are thrown out the window,” Henning said at the Thursday, April 16 commissioners meeting when the board put the school bond on ice. “We don’t have models that show what we can do next.”
Henning said that, right now, while the economy is virtually at a standstill, people can’t even plan a vacation – much less plan for a $1.6-billion spending initiative. He said economic activity has to resume.
“If we don’t get this thing going, there won’t be school bonds this year – there won’t be a lot of things this year,” Henning said.
This week, after a Board of Commissioners work session where the board got some extremely dire revenue forecasts, Henning reiterated the point that it’s just extremely difficult to imagine putting a $1.6 billion bond on the ballot given what’s transpiring locally and nationally.
Henning didn’t completely rule out voting to put a school bond of some size on the ballot, but he did say $1.6 billion was out of the question and any referendum approved would have to be handled with extreme caution.
There’s also the giant question as to whether the county’s voters will vote to approve a school bond given the current economic conditions even if a referendum does make it onto the November ballot.
Commissioner Alan Branson also said $1.6 billion isn’t something he could possibly support. He said he has reservations about a bond of even a much smaller amount. Branson said he has had concerns about some school spending recently that seems to him to be excessive, and he added that there have been departures at the top echelons of the school facilities department that make him question whether the school system is really ready to take on a host of massive construction projects right now.
Despite the economy and the skepticism from some commissioners, Commissioner Skip Alston said this week that there is going to be a school bond referendum on the ballot, and he said that, furthermore, he’s confident that the Board of Commissioners will vote unanimously to put it on the ballot. He said the virus hasn’t changed the pressing needs of the school system given its aging and failing buildings.
“The school bond will be on the ballot in November,” Alston said.
Alston is still pushing for a bond to be set at $1.6 billion. However, he did acknowledge that, given the current state of the economy and the political realities of a Republican-majority board, the bond on the ballot may end up being a lesser amount, perhaps half of the school board’s request.
Alston said that, even if a $1.6 billion bond passes in November, the schools will need more money in another bond referendum in two years since the needs of the system are so great.