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Local Government Commission presses pause on vote for Guilford school bonds

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GREENSBORO — If county and school leaders were hoping for smooth sailing in getting approval for $1.7 billion in school bonds from North Carolina’s Local Government Commission, that’s not exactly what happened on Thursday.

Instead of voting as planned, the commission tabled the motion for 10 days to allow time for Guilford County officials to pull together information on past and projected trends on public and private school student enrollment numbers as requested by a member of the commission.

The commission oversees finances for all municipalities in North Carolina. Counties and cities must seek approval from the Local Government Commission before borrowing money.

According to its website, the commission looks at whether the amount being borrowed is “adequate and reasonable” for the planned projects and whether it is an amount a local government can reasonably afford to repay.

Guilford County went through the same process, successfully, for the $300 million in bonds that voters approved in 2020.

Dale Folwell (copy)

Folwell

State Treasurer Dale Folwell chairs the commission. The body also includes the secretary of state, state auditor and House and Senate leaders among others.

City Council member Nancy Hoffmann is a member of the commission, but was not present at the meeting due a medical appointment. Hoffmann said she planned to speak with other commission members to learn more about what questions or concerns were raised at the meeting.

At the start of the meeting, the Guilford County school bonds vote was part of the commission’s consent agenda — a large group of items that are voted on together — without further discussion on the individual items. The Guilford County school bonds, however, were pulled from the consent agenda to be dealt with separately.

At the beginning of the discussion, Folwell said he was concerned about “getting out, too far out, over your skis as far as debt,” and quizzed Guilford County officials about the expected impact of the school bonds on local property taxes and homeowners.

Commission members also had questions about school enrollment in the county, among others. While enrollment is growing in some areas and some schools are over capacity, district enrollment has dropped during the pandemic and has also been affected by the launching of new charter schools in the county in recent years.

Guilford County Manager Michael Halford and Angie Henry, a senior adviser to the superintendent, explained that the main reason for the bond referendum was the identification of schools in poor and unsatisfactory condition, rather than expected growth.

And they said the county is trying to catch up on needed school renovations and replacements — especially in comparison to the spending on school construction in the last few decades in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Wake County.

Folwell supported tabling the vote to allow time for getting the enrollment data, but also struck a note that sounded more positive to the Guilford bonds request than how he started the meeting.

“We understand ... there is a need for repair and renovation regardless of how many students are there,” he said. “We’ve got enough common sense. We’ll apply all that.”

Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.

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