There’s no question that the Guilford County commissioners are gung-ho on school funding.
Guilford County Schools got approval from county voters for $300 million in bond money in November 2020 and the Board of Commissioners just funded the schools for the 2021-2022 fiscal year with a record increase. However, already, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston and several other commissioners are talking about the need to put a $1.6 billion school bond referendum on the ballot next year.
Alston said studies of the school system’s situation over the last several years have shown a great financial need to cover school building repairs, maintenance and construction; and he added that the $300 million that was approved by voters last year isn’t nearly enough.
In the 2021-2022 fiscal budget that the county commissioners passed last month, Guilford County Schools didn’t get everything they asked for – but they did get a solid promise from Alston of plenty more to come.
At a work session with school officials – and also at a regular meeting with school advocates in the room – Alston promised that the county has the schools’ back.
“We are family,” Alston said in the work session. “We need to work together.”
The chairman also said that the funding the county is currently providing is only what can be done right now. Alston assured school officials that the county is doing everything it can to be in a position to provide more money for education in the future.
Right now, nearly half of the county’s budget goes to fund the school system and Guilford Technical Community College – as well as to pay off education-bond debt.
Not everyone is so eager to get a huge new pot of money into the hands of school officials. Over the last year, there’s been something of an uprising of disgruntled parents who’ve objected to many decisions of the school board and of Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras.
Oak Ridge Town Councilmember George McClellan said he’s been downright appalled by the way the current school board and superintendent have handled money in recent years. McClellan raised the issue of $10 million that the commissioners voted to provide the schools in 2018 for school security. He said school officials sat on that money for a long time and then ended up using much of it for other purposes.
“It’s about accountability,” he said.
McClellan also said that the school board was currently being extremely political.
“They are directly injecting partisanship” into the funding debate, he said.
He also said that the schools frequently ask for more and more money faster than they can spend it even though, he added, school leaders haven’t shown that they can spend it responsibly.
While McClellan feels that way, there are clearly many voters in Guilford County who disagree with that assessment. Next year everyone will likely find out how a majority of county voters feel.