Guilford County Manager Mike Halford and the Guilford County Board of Commissioners have been very, very good to Guilford County Schools in recent years – so good in fact that paying the operations and debt service for education in the county now makes up almost half of the county’s budget; and, with massive school debt accumulating in the upcoming years, education costs appear likely to start taking more than half of the budget soon.

The percentage of the county’s budget going to education has been rising over the years and the fact that it will likely constitute more than half of the county’s budget in the near future is a major milestone.

That 48 percent mark is even more remarkable given how fast the Board of Commissioners has been growing the other parts of Guilford County government – by adding swaths of new positions, raising every county employees’ pay and adding multiple new benefits, and funding just about every project or proposal the board hears.

A very small percentage of the money for education goes to fund Guilford Technical Community College. The vast majority of the money the county spends on education goes toward the Guilford County school system in order to pay salaries, operate the system, maintain the buildings and pay off the debt.

In 2020, county voters approved a $300 million school bond referendum and last year approved a $1.7 billion referendum. Debt service from that $2 billion will rise for years before eventually tailing off.

At a recent work session of the Board of Commissioners, Halford made an interesting point about school debt: Namely, the county spends the money to construct the buildings, however, once built, the buildings belong to the school system rather than the county. If you take out a loan to build a house, at least you own the house in the end, but when you’re a North Carolina county taking out loans to build schools, you don’t own those schools.