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Guilford commissioners will hold $1.7B school bond referendum in March

Guilford commissioners will hold $1.7B school bond referendum in March

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GREENSBORO — A $1.7 billion school bond referendum will be on the ballot next year, putting to the test how much residents think is necessary to fix Guilford County’s ailing schools.

The Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted 7-2 on Thursday night to put the referendum on the March 8 ballot.

It’s just the latest step in a series of many to try and meet the maintenance needs of the school system, the state’s third largest. For years, many have argued that by not keeping up with repairs, the district-wide effect has been exponential, making it worse over time.

Guilford County Schools said it has $2 billion in school maintenance and construction needs — based, in part, by an external study — and prior bond funding has fallen well short.

The previous Republican-dominated Board of Commissioners supported a $300 million bond referendum in 2020 that was approved by voters.

But top school officials have been pushing for the balance, saying they still need $1.7 billion for long-overdue repairs and new schools.

A Democratic board elected in 2020 vowed to come up with that money.

This year, all seven Democrats on the board voted to place the referendum on the ballot with Republican Commissioners Justin Conrad and Alan Perdue voting against it.

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Before the vote, Ebony Burnette addressed commissioners, saying she grew up poor and school was a place of respite. But she thinks the district’s deteriorating schools are forcing students to further endure bad conditions.

“Many of our students are still living in unsafe homes, which we have to fix, and then they have to go to uncomfortable and unsafe schools,” Burnette said.

Perdue said it will strain the county to issue $1.7 billion in debt.

Democratic Commissioner Carly Cooke, however, criticized what she called a “fragmented” approach, saying, “that has been our strategy for many years and it’s clearly not getting us where we need to be.”

Chairman Melvin “Skip” Alston echoed several of his fellow commissioners in supporting the bonds and urged citizens to visit schools and make up their minds about whether the money is needed.

“We have the money to do what we want to do when we want to do it. We spent $85 million on a jail,” Alston said. “But we’re fighting not to spend money on our schools? Come on, now.”

The bonds won’t likely be all issued at once, commissioners said, but the need will exist for years to come.

The board voted earlier to place a quarter-cent sales tax on the ballot to help pay for the bonds.

Also at Thursday’s commissioners meeting, Alston was renamed chairman by a 7-1 vote with Democratic Commissioner James Upchurch in opposition.

Contact Richard M. Barron at 336-373-7371 and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.


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