Schools respond to rejected sales tax proposals

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Voters in two Piedmont counties rejected a proposed sales tax increase on their ballots. The money generated would have been used for schools, promised commissioners in both Guilford and Rockingham Counties.

Some worried the money would not have made it to education needs since it would technically go into the general fund and was not legally earmarked for education.

Language on the ballot described a sales and use tax increase, but could not specifically say the dollars would go to education, or in some counties, transportation.

More than 57 percent of voters rejected the tax in Guilford County. In Rockingham County, 74 percent voted against it.

Guilford County Superintendent Mo Green and Board of Education Chairman Alan Duncan said the school could have used the money, but both said in a press conference that they respect voters' clear opinion on the matter.

"There's a lot of support for additional funding in our schools. But there's also a lot of questions about what the right methods for that are," Duncan pointed out. "I truly believe everyone in the county wants what's right for our students."

Green thanked all of the voters who weighed in. He said they'd continue working with the state for additional funding and look at further internal cuts. "However, having looked internally for six years and having made millions upon millions of dollars of cuts, at some point we do need additional resources to flow into our school system."

Rockingham County Manager Lance Metzler explained, "Just next year, we will be $631,000 short, and it will be that way for the next few years. Now we will start seeing rebound but the rebound won't be until 2020."

Metzler said he had been hoping if the sales tax was approved, commissioners wouldn't have to consider increasing property taxes or cutting county services.

Now, though, he's not sure where they'll find the money.

"We've got this revenue tool box and we keep pulling tools out a using them, but they're gone. This was our last hope for a revenue tool."

Metzler is especially frustrated the county never received about a million dollars a year in lottery funds promised by the state for the last several years. They took out debt for school building projects with the understanding they'd have that money. Average daily membership money was also cut.

"We're at 22 percent with the lottery funds and if we were at the full 40 percent, that shortfall would probably not exist next year," pointed out Rockingham County Schools Superintendent Dr. Rodney Shotwell.

"The voters have spoken and that's why we live in a democracy," he added. "We are always going to put health and safety first. So we are going to make sure kids are dry and make sure they get the proper amount of heat and air conditioning as best we can so what we have to do is prioritize those with the money we do get."

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