$1.7 billion.

That’s how much money voters approved for Guilford County to borrow to fund the construction of new schools and the repair of old ones.

Once that money is borrowed, the county will have to pay off that amount plus an estimated $800 million in interest over the next two decades.

Late last year, when it became clear that the Guilford County Board of Commissioners was going to put a $1.7 billion school bond referendum on the ballot this year, some county commissioners said they thought it wouldn’t pass because of the massive size of the referendum during a pandemic and at a time of economic uncertainty.  They said it would have been better for the schools to ask for $700 million or $800 million and come back for more when the schools ran out of that money.

But county voters clearly had no problem with the immense price tag.  When the final results were tallied on Tuesday, May 17, 61 percent of those voters had approved the measure while only 39 percent voted no.

A high-ranking county official said on Tuesday that one saving grace is that the schools can only spend money so fast.  Even though $1.7 billion has been approved, he said, it will take years and years for the money to actually be put to use because the past two decades have shown that Guilford County Schools can’t spend money at anywhere near the rate that the school board thinks it can.

For instance, Guilford County voters approved $300 million for the school system in a bond referendum two years ago and the schools have only spent a few million dollars of that money.

And, in May 2008, Guilford County voters approved $457 million in school bonds that school board members said was needed immediately – and ten years later the school system was struggling to spend the final millions of that money before the deadline for using it expired.