In past years, there’s been a little game that the Guilford County manager and the Guilford County Board of Commissioners play when it comes to funding for Guilford County Schools. It goes something like this…

The school system officials start the game by asking for an astounding amount of funding – asking for the moon, one might say.

They know they won’t get that much but there’s no harm in asking.

Then, the county manager – currently Mike Halford – recommends a budget that comes in at a number way lower than the schools asked for. Then school advocates complain loudly, and, in late June when a final budget is adopted by the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, the board adds many more millions to the school system’s funding, and they look like heroes.

  That way, the county manager, who’s not elected, seems like the Grinch, while, in the end, the commissioners, who are elected, look like the good guys – the cavalry riding in at the last minute to save the day.

That’s happened in most years for a long time.

But it doesn’t look this year like the school system is going to get some big last-minute “surprise” infusion of funding from the Board of Commissioners.

Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston, Commissioner Frankie Jones and Commissioner Kay Cashion all told the Rhino Times this week that the county has been very generous to the school system and recent years and also said that Guilford County has a lot of other mandates and responsibilities that are increasing in costs in a very tight budget.

At a budget session last week, Commissioner Jones made some excellent points when school system leaders were asking for more funding in the upcoming budget.  Jones pointed out that, when one looks at school funding, you should not just include the $266 million at Halford put in the budget for school system operations and capital maintenance – but you have to count the $52 million that the county is having to allocate in the fiscal 2024-2025 budget to start to pay off the $2 billion in school bonds that voters approved.

He also pointed out that debt service for school bonds is going to increase in the coming years, going from $77 million next year to $99 million the year after that.  He said that puts quite a constraint on what the county can do as far as adding additional money to Halford’s recommendation.

Halford’s budget proposal, by the way, does include an $8 million increase in school funding, just not the $55 million increase that school officials requested.

Jones said the massive debt is something the county took on to help the school system.

“It changes the whole equation,” Jones said,

He said the school system is getting the benefits of all that bond money but the commissioners are getting little credit for taking on and paying off that massive debt.

“That makes it challenging to do anything more,” he said of the large debt payments facing the county.

He added that the board has another work session next week when school funding might be discussed again.

At a budget session on Tuesday, June 11, when school officials were making comparisons to budget funding of school systems in other counties, Jones made sure that the debt payments Guilford County will be making for years to come for school bonds stayed at the front of everyone’s mind.

Cashion said after that work session that the county, and the county’s voters who approved the bonds, have been very generous with funding for Guilford County Schools in recent years, but she added that, this year, in this budget, it would be very hard to find the money to give the schools an extra $9 million or $10 million at the last minute.

Several commissioners said that there might be a little more money for the schools in the final 2024-2025 budget, but they added that school officials should not expect that bump to be anything like the large bumps in previous years.