Each year at this time, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners and Guilford County Board of Education discuss, cajole, bicker, horse trade and engage in other activities along those lines to arrive at a magical and all-important number.

That number is the total amount of money Guilford County will fund the school system for operations, maintenance and repairs for the 12 months that follow July 1, which is the start of the fiscal year.

The process each year lasts from the time the Guilford County Board of Education makes its official funding request to the Board of Commissioners to the time the commissioners adopt a final county budget in mid to late June.

The school board has just approved its request from the county for fiscal 2023-2024. That request, which was approved by the school board on Tuesday, May 9, includes a very, very big ask – more than $100 million in additional money over what the schools got from the county last year.

That money would go  largely to raise salaries for lower-paid “classified employees” like bus drivers and cafeteria workers, as well as be used for teacher supplements to pay teachers more.

The decision as to how much the county should give the schools each year is a huge one for the Board of Commissioners, because, currently, the county’s money spent on education (including school bond debt) totals nearly half of the entire Guilford County budget.

In fiscal year 2022-2023, which began July 1 of last year, the county allocated $244,810,398 for school operations and $10 million toward capital projects, totaling over $250 million. Increasing that number to over $350 million would put a tremendous strain on the county’s resources.

This year, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston said the school board’s request of about $101 million in additional money wasn’t something the county could afford.  He said he didn’t know yet how much the county could comfortably give the schools in the coming fiscal year but he said he knew it would certainly not be the $350 million-plus that the schools were requesting.

“That would be more than a 14 and a half cent property tax increase, and I’ve already said that I don’t favor any tax increase this year,” Alston said.

Alston added that the schools do have very legitimate needs and the county may be able to phase in more money over time – but he also said that adding more than $100 million to the budget for the school system in one year simply isn’t doable when the county has so many other demands.

The schools request this year for additional money is in fact an historic and ginormous request. To provide some context, nearly a decade ago, when the schools requested almost $30 million more than the previous year, former County Commissioner Hank Henning said that request made it extremely easy on the commissioners.  He said that’s because, usually, the commissioners would have to weigh the schools’ requests and negotiate.  However, Henning said that year, the schools’ request was so absurd that the commissioners felt like it wasn’t even worth talking to school officials about. Instead, he said at the time, the commissioners would just have to get together and decide what was reasonable.

That was a Republican board, however, and the current Democratic-run Board of Commissioners – which includes a teacher and two former school board members, has been very, very, very school-funding friendly in recent years.  In fact, while the county and the schools have had a funding dance in past years, in recent years it’s more accurate to say that they met at a dance and immediately went to a hotel room where they remained all night and missed the checkout time by hours the following day.

It sounds like the schools can’t count on that happening again this year.

The Guilford County school system’s total budget, if requests are granted this time around, would be over a billion dollars for the coming fiscal year. The school system has two other major funding sources: state funding and federal funding.

Guilford County has been spending so much money on so many things in the last three years that Alston has already told the Rhino Times that the state must start taking up more of the funding slack.  This year school officials are projecting that the system will get $462 million from the state.

The Guilford County Board of Commissioners will hold its annual public hearing for the county budget on June 1 and the board is required to approve a final budget by midnight on June 30.

Guilford County Schools anticipates adopting an interim budget resolution in mid-June to continue operations in the new fiscal year while awaiting the state of North Carolina’s adoption of a final budget.