GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Guilford County students can look forward to much better facilities in the future.
More than 60% of voters approved a $1.7 billion bond referendum to repair, rebuild and replace a list of buildings that are about 55 years old on the average and supplement projects already underway based on a $300 million bond approved in 2020.
But voters rejected, 54% to 46%, an accompanying quarter-cent sales tax increase that would have provided the cash the county needs to fund the bonds.
The results are unofficial and incomplete until all mail-in ballots are received and counted and the results certified by local and state election officials.
The Guilford County Board of Education has developed a master plan that addresses more than 125 schools and facilities, starting with the replacement of Hampton/Peeler Elementary School and Erwin Montessori that were required after tornadoes destroyed those buildings in April 2018. The list ends with Northern Area Elementary School, which would require $26.8 million to replace.
School officials had asked for this bond to be on the ballot in 2020, but the Guilford County Board of Commissioners elected that $300 million option. They approved this year’s bond to pay for the full replacement list, officials have said.
“It’s not a want. It’s a need for our kids, and that’s what we have to approach this as. This is something we have to do. We don’t have an option,” Board of Commissioners Chair Melvin “Skip” Alston told WGHP in December before the bond was approved. “We can’t allow the next generation of our students to be forced with the same learning environment as this generation has been forced to live with.”
But two Republicans on the Board of Commissioners and two on the Board of Education voted against the bonds. The Guilford County Republican Party also opposed the bond and tax as “ill conceived and unwarranted.”
The plan in Guilford County appeared to follow former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s $2 billion in bonds for statewide facilities, primarily at state universities, which voters approved during the 2016 primary election.
Deena Hayes-Greene, the chair of the school board, said she is “in full support of the $1.7b school bond. In addition, the BOCC [board of county commissioners] and the BOE [board of education] jointly funded district-wide facilities and boundary optimization study. This comprehensive school improvement and facility use report is the first study that assesses facilities across the district.”
Why the bond exists
Guilford County Schools three years ago hired Cooperative Strategies, a school facility planning firm, to help examine their facilities and create the master list that is now the foundation for the bond referendum. David Sturtz, a partner with Cooperative Strategies, said that every school was addressed. The average age of a GCS facility is said to be 55 years, built in the 1960s.
The plan for the $1.7 billion is to fund 18 rebuilds, 13 renovations and 3 new construction projects, officials have said. There also would be new technology and maintenance.
Sturtz said Phase I started with Erwin Montessori moving to Archer and with Hampton and Summit consolidating into a new elementary school. Northwest Middle in the Summerfield/Oak Ridge area would move to a new location, and so would Weaver Academy of Performing Arts.
School board races
Republicans on Tuesday also nominated candidates for two of the five available seats on the 9-member Board of Education.
In District 2 Crissy Pratt of High Point beat Marc Ridgill of Liberty by about six percentage points. In District 6 Tim Andrew of High Point easily turned back Matthew R. Kuennen of Jamestown by about a 2-to-1 margin.
Pratt, who will face Democrat Amanda Cook in November, said she entered the race “because I was frustrated with the obvious politics on the current school board as well as the dismal academic performance of our students, both pre-COVID and post-COVID. “
Andrew, who will take on incumbent Democrat Khem Irby, said he had “always tried to support my son’s educators during his years as a GCS student. I was a registered GCS volunteer for many years. The pandemic and remote learning brought more items to light.”
The other races:
- At-large: Democrat Alan Sherouse and Republican Demetria Carter, both of Greensboro, will vie for the seat being vacated by board Vice-Chari Winston McGregor.
- District 4: Democrat Deon Clark of McLeansville and incumbent Republican Linda Welborn of Greensboro.
- District 8: Hayes-Greene is unopposed.
Pratt, Andrew, Welborn and Carter are working together as a slate under the collective Take Back Our Schools, a nonprofit organization that is raising money for the group in an effort to support conservative views of education. Andrew pointed out that each candidate, though, has a specific agenda apart from the group.