By now, just about everyone knows that a recent school facilities study found that the Guilford County School system needs right at $1.5 billion for all the repairs, construction and other work it requires to operate at peak level – however, a development this week has added a new wrinkle in that challenge, which was already big enough to begin with.
The schools haven’t asked for the Guilford County Board of Commissioners to put a new school bond referendum on the ballot yet, but that ask is coming. However, before a school bond referendum – for all or some part of $1.5 billion – can be put before Guilford County’s voters to decide, school officials must convince at least five of the nine members of the Board of Commissioners to put that referendum on the ballot.
Prior to this week, it seemed certain that four of those five needed votes would come easily from the four Democrats on the board – since each June at budget time those Dems argue vehemently for more school funding.
However, after a late February vote by the five Republican Guilford County Commissioners to approve a $12-million county construction project that included virtually no black participation, there’s something new for school officials to worry about.
This week, Guilford County Commissioner Skip Alston said that, after the county’s total disregard for African-American concerns in the vote last month, he has no plans to vote to put a new school bond referendum on the ballot with hundreds of millions of dollars in construction contracts if there are no assurances that a reasonable amount of that work will go to black-owned firms.
“The five white male Republicans approved that contract with less than two-tenths of one percent going to black-owned firms,” Alston said. “If we’re going to approve any more bonds, things have to change.”
He said he’s fully prepared not to put a school bond referendum on the ballot if all of that money is going to go straight into the pockets of white-owned firms.
Commissioner Carolyn Coleman also expressed strong concerns earlier this month about the county’s lack of use of black-owned firms and Commissioner Carlvena Foster, another black commissioner, is also clearly agitated by what the group has called a total disregard for black concerns and for fairness.
This new development is particularly interesting in light of the fact that the five Republicans are already highly ambivalent about putting a giant school bond referendum on the ballot. The Republicans don’t doubt that the schools need a lot of money for capital expenditures – but they also know a giant bond referendum will no doubt mean a property tax increase, and Guilford County hasn’t had one of those since the Republicans took control of the board in 2012.
Republican Guilford County Commissioner Hank Henning said that he and others on the board need to see a well thought out plan from the schools for the maximization of existing school space before the board will approve a massive infusion of hundreds of millions more. Henning said the commissioners aren’t just going to hand the schools a billion dollars or more without a rock solid plan the Board of Commissioners can buy into.
And don’t forget: If and when the Board of Commissioners does approve putting a school bond referendum on the ballot, the county’s voters still have to pass it before that referendum will raise one dime.