Guilford County parents, students, school board members and other advocates of public education showed up in force to ask the nine Guilford County commissioners to give Guilford County Schools more money than Guilford County Manager Mike Halford is calling for in his proposed fiscal 2024-2025 budget.

The county commissioners have the ultimate say on the budget, which the board is expected to adopt on Thursday, June 20.

School advocates were appreciative that the county commissioners and the county’s voters were willing to take on $2 billion in debt to build and repair schools; however, they argued that that money couldn’t be used for many of the school system’s needs.

Halford’s budget did not provide nearly enough money, they said, for yearly repairs to schools – and certainly not enough for school operations such as salaries and paying the utility bills.

Before the meeting, the school advocates marched through downtown Greensboro banging drums and chanting loudly. Then there was a rally in front of the Old Guilford County Court House just prior to the start of the Thursday, June 6 commissioners meeting that began at 5:30 p.m..

When the public hearing on Halford’s budget started, the commissioners’ meeting room on the second floor of the Old Guilford County Court House was packed with people supporting more school funding, and many of them spoke for their allotted two minutes. By the time it was all over, every commissioner had had an earful.

One of the final speakers broke down in tears as she spoke of the need for the Board of Commissioners to provide Guilford County Schools with more funding.

Almost all of the speakers who spoke on Halford’s proposed budget addressed school funding.

Guilford County Board of Education Member Linda Welborn came and addressed the commissioners. She said that, even though the schools had $2 billion in money for capital projects, Halfords 2024-2025 budget didn’t provide enough for routine maintenance.

“We cannot use that bond money to patch a roof,” Welborn said during her two-minute speech.

Another speaker called Halford’s $2.5 million capital allocation for the entire school system “absolutely ridiculous.”

A brand-new teacher said he was already burnt out after one year in the school system due to the conditions at his school.

“Our teachers need help,” he pleaded, “Our students need better conditions.”

This year, the Guilford County school board requested a $55.5 million increase for the school system’s operating and capital budgets for fiscal 2024-2025, which begins July 1.

However, Halford’s recommended budget calls for the county to give the schools an increase of $8.3 million.

The Board of Commissioners could increase that amount and that’s exactly what the members in the audience asked them to do.

Of the $8.3 million increase proposed for the coming fiscal year, the county is allocating just over $5.87 million for school operations – for things like salaries, paying heating bills, etc., while the $2.5 million is provided for capital projects such as building repairs and buying new HVAC units.

In his annual budget message to the commissioners last month, Halford stated that “Normal revenue growth next year will not support the more than $55.5 million operating and capital budget increase that’s been requested by the Board of Education.”

The $55.5 million is the increase requested by the school system. The recommended county budget includes $266 million for Guilford County Schools’ operating budget.

Roughly 45 percent of the county’s budget goes to education – that is, Guilford County Schools and, to a much smaller degree, Guilford Technical Community College.

County commissioners argue that they have plenty of needs to provide for other than the schools.

Many speakers acknowledged that the current board has been very good in recent years in regard to school funding.

“I know you fought for public schools in the past,” one speaker said of the current Democrat-majority board. “Do it again.”

“Thank you for your generosity,” another said, “We need you to be more generous.”

Some school system employees said they had no money for sports programs or even money to turn their school stadium lights on at night.

One speaker asked the board to think about the importance of the children.

“Eventually, these kids are going to become our future, the ones taking care of us,” she said.

A teacher told the board that “classified employees,” such as cafeteria workers, janitors and bus drivers, come to her frequently and say, “I have to quit.  I can’t pay my bills. I don’t make enough money.”

In the past years, the Board of Commissioners has traditionally thrown in extra millions of dollars for Guilford County Schools on top of the amount recommended by the manager; however, it’s not yet clear whether that will happen this time around.