Guilford County commissioners, county officials, and many people who follow local politics were caught off guard this weekend when the Guilford County Board of Education voted not to approve the same district lines that the Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted to approve at its Thursday, Nov. 4 meeting.

The school board, while on retreat on Saturday, Nov. 6, voted 6 to 3 not to adopt the same district lines that county commissioners had spent the last three months deciding.  The school board will revisit the matter and may still approve the county commissioners’ district lines, however, the surprise no vote left an impression on a lot of people who had every reason to think the school board would adopt the lines when presented with the option.

Many people in the county – especially election staff, no doubt – appreciate the simplicity and efficiency of having the school board districts match the county commissioners districts, as is the case in Guilford County currently.

Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston, who was the main architect of the map that the Board of Commissioners adopted for commissioners races – working with lots of input from leaders in both parties – said he still expects the school board to adopt the same districts. 

Alston said he believes the weekend no vote was more a timing matter than anything else.

“The map was still being worked on Wednesday evening (Nov. 3), and I think we didn’t get it to them fast enough,” Alston said.

Alston said county staff was most focused last week on getting the map to his fellow commissioners.

The school board members didn’t see the official approved county map until Friday, Nov. 5, Alston said, and he added that some members likely didn’t have the time to review it to their satisfaction before the vote the next day.  Alston said he’s confident, or least hopeful, that, once school board members have had time to review the final map, the school board will approve it.

Alston also said some school board members were confused by a previous map that he’d drawn up and posted on the county’s website – a site that included all the maps from everyone who sent in a map proposal. 

At the end of the process, Alston had two different maps posted at the site.  Map F was the right one; Map E was a previous version –  however, that wasn’t clear at all from looking at the county’s website. 

“Some of them thought Map E was the final map,” Alston said.

Some concerns school board members had with Alston’s first map – such as two current school board members being put in the same district – were fixed in the later version of the map. 

Alston said on Monday, Nov. 8 that the school board is an independent body that’s free to draw its own lines if its board members wish – but he added that he, like many others in the county, sees a big benefit from the school board having districts identical to the Board of Commissioners’ districts.

School board members didn’t respond immediately to the Rhino Times on Monday, however, public comments from board members made after the vote on Saturday suggest that a lack of time to study the county’s final map was an important consideration in the no vote.

There were several reasons the school board’s Saturday vote came as a big surprise to commissioners and others: (1) In late October, the school board voted unanimously to use the same lines the county commissioners approved (2) Members of the school board were included in the talks that created the final county map (3) There is no indication that the school board members have even begun the process of drawing lines for school board districts and the deadline for submitting maps to the state is Thursday, Nov. 18.

The school board is scheduled to meet on Tuesday evening, Nov. 8, and the board could adopt the county commissioners’ district lines at that meeting.

Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad said he was stunned when he saw that the school board had voted against adopting the lines.

“They had a unanimous vote to use the same districts,” Conrad said of the school board, pointing to the previous school board vote that was still warm when that board voted 6 to 3 not to adopt the lines.

Conrad also noted that school board members were included in the talks that created the final map.  He added that he’s not always complimentary of Alston but it was clear in this process that Alston made every attempt to address all concerns, including the concerns of the two Republican commissioners on the board – himself and Alan Perdue.

Conrad said he’s watching closely to see what happens next.

“I hope they do the right thing,” Conrad said of the school board, meaning, of course, that he hopes Guilford County doesn’t end up with two sets of district lines.