by Sam Hieb
Funny —of all the things to think during this difficult time, I was thinking about the proposed $1.6 billion Guilford County Schools bond, which was set to go on the November ballot. My thought was the coronavirus could usher in a learn from home revolution, as some believe it will usher in work from home revolution. Such a revolution would save the schools millions–billions–in facility costs, rendering such large bond referendums unnecessary.
But that remains to be seen. Right now, Guilford commissioners are pondering the wisdom of putting the bond on the ballot:
The bond was a major topic of discussion at a small meeting this week between Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips, Commissioner Skip Alston and county staff. Most of that discussion surrounding the proposed 2020 school bond referendum took place in closed session, but it’s becoming clear that the virus – and its total economic disruption – has greatly complicated the matter for the commissioners.
In early March, the Guilford County Board of Education voted to request that the county set the amount of a bond referendum at $1.6 billion and approve its placement on the November ballot. However, when the school board made that request, it wasn’t known that the economy of the United States of America would be virtually shut down for an unknown period of time. Things may be much better by the fall, however, the problem is that, if the commissioners are going to approve a school bond for the November ballot, they have to start that process in April in order to meet requirements that involve public hearings and state government approval just to name two considerations.
This week, Guilford County Commissioner Hank Henning said the Board of Commissioners is in an extremely challenging position because it’s being asked to determine what kind of financial burden the county can take on at a time when the county faces massive economic uncertainty.
Guilford County Commissioner Alan Branson said another factor to consider is that, if the economy is in a shambles in October and November when people vote, the county citizens are very unlikely to approve a giant billion-dollar-plus school bond.
“I think that sets it up for failure,” Branson said of the requested amount that’s daunting even when the economy is doing well.
Branson suggested a smaller bond–$350 million to $500 million—reasoning that would have better chance of passing. But fellow commissioner Skip Alston–leave it to him—countered a school bond referendum of $1.6 billion actually has a better chance of passing than a much smaller one because “if you have a $1.6 billion bond more people will see projects for their schools.”
And here we have the problem–coronavirus or no coronavirus.