$1.7 billion.

That’s the amount that school officials would like to see on Guilford County’s ballot in 2022. 

On Thursday, Nov. 4, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to start the process necessary for a school bond of up to $1.7 billion to be put on the ballot.   That’s nearly three times the amount of the massive school bond referendums approved by county voters in 2008, and it comes on the heels of a $300 million school bond referendum approved in the 2020 general election.

The motion approved by the commissioners was a “Notice of Intention” for Guilford County general obligation bonds for use to conduct school repairs and construction.

“The Guilford County Board of Commissioners has actively engaged with the Guilford County Schools Board of Education in assessing the needs of public school facilities within Guilford County,” the motion states.  “The Board of Commissioners are authorizing county administration to begin the process of setting a voter referendum to authorize the issuance of General Obligation bonds in the amount up to $1.7 billion for the acquisition, construction, improvement, equipping and expansion of school facilities.”

The motion also authorizes county staff to publish the county’s Notice of Intention to apply to the Local Government Commission.  The “LGC,” as it is usually called, is a state government financial oversight commission that must clear the bond proposal by considering several factors – the most important being whether or not Guilford County will be able to pay the money back if it borrows it.

The Guilford County Republican-majority Board of Commissioners were blasted by school supporters in 2020 because that board “only” approved $300 million in school bond money for the county’s voters to consider. 

Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad said at the Nov. 4 meeting, as well as after it, that there are a couple of very important things to keep in mind regarding this new move.  One is that the $1.7 billion is the upper limit – not the amount that will likely show up on the ballot. 

Conrad said he doesn’t want to see a bond that size on the ballot. 

He also said he does not believe that the bond referendum will end up being that amount.

When the commissioners approved a $300 million referendum for the ballot at a time in 2020 when the economy was falling apart, and no one knew what the COVID-19 pandemic would bring, Conrad and other county commissioners pledged at that time that the board would come back with the intention to raise more money for the schools in the future.

In 2020, numerous county commissioners said over and over again that the school board would have access to $300 million it could start spending – and the commissioners would come back later and put a larger school bond on the ballot once there was a clear picture of the county’s economic circumstances.

That’s now happening.

“This was the plan all along,” Conrad said, reflecting the comments that he and fellow commissioners made in 2020.