There was a whole lot of celebration among Guilford County Schools’ advocates in May when a $1.7 billion school bond referendum passed easily – meaning the school system would have plenty of money for years to come to build new schools and repair existing ones.
However, former Guilford County Commissioner Alan Branson – the Republican at-large commissioner candidate this year – filed a challenge against the certification of the giant bond package, and that has left the outcome in limbo.
Branson presented evidence to the Guilford County Board of Elections that taxpayer money was used illegally to help pass the bonds and now that question is tied up with the state Board of Elections.
School officials can’t move forward on the bonds until the referendum election victory is certified and now it’s not clear when that will happen.
Recently, the Guilford County Board of Elections ruled that there wasn’t enough probable cause for a hearing regarding Branson’s complaints, and now that has been appealed to the State Board of Elections.
Guilford County Board of Elections Director Charlie Collicutt said he doesn’t know when the issue will get addressed at the state level.
“I have no idea about the State Board’s timeline – and I’m not sure it’s specified in the statutes,” Collicutt said this week regarding the status of the protest.
Branson has hinted that he may take the matter to NC Superior Court if his challenge fails with the State Board of Elections. He said that would be an expensive proposition – perhaps costing $25,000 or more – but he added that there may be some other school bond opponents willing to pitch in funds for the legal battle.
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston said this week that Branson is hurting the school children of the county every day that he continues this action.
“They can’t fully start the plan to build new schools,” Alston said of school officials.
Collicutt said the actions of the Guilford County Board of Elections are dependent on the outcome at the state board and the courts.
“We can certify the bond election within 10 days after the State Board of Election’s decision if it were dismissed or doesn’t change the result – unless it’s appealed to Superior Court,” Collicutt said.
This dispute is covered by NC General Statute 163-182.15, titled “Certificate of nomination or election, or certificate of the results of a referendum.”
Collicutt said this dispute is currently at step number 2 in the process:
“(2) The certificate shall be issued on the tenth day after the final decision of the State Board, unless the State Board has ordered a new election or the issuance of the certificate is stayed by the Superior Court of Wake County pursuant to [General Statutes].
After that, the next step is the following:
“(3) If the decision of the State Board has been appealed to the Superior Court of Wake County and the court has stayed the certification, the certificate shall be issued five days after the entry of a final order in the case in the Superior Court of Wake County, unless that court or an appellate court orders otherwise.”
Guilford County Schools do have $300 million from the 2020 bond referendum that are unaffected by the challenge to the $1.7 billion bond referendum.