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Mary Ellen Shiflett and Colleen Fairbanks: Bonds and sales tax would transform our schools

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Colleen Fairbanks

Colleen Fairbanks

On May 17, voters in Guilford County will have a rare opportunity. Two proposals on the primary ballot — the $1.7 billion bond referendum and the $0.25% sales and use tax proposal — present a chance to revitalize an entire school system and reap lasting rewards far into the future.

Communities that modernize their school facilities receive a visible return on money spent. Numerous studies in the United States and Europe show new and renovated school buildings bring more successful teacher recruitment, increase student and teacher motivation and engagement, increase student effort, boost grades and improve test scores, as well as higher student enrollment and attendance.

Economically, revitalization of a school district increases a community’s ability to attract new businesses, create new jobs and provide an educated workforce. There is an economic impact from the construction itself. Property values and home prices increase, and these communities experience increased community pride.

Guilford County’s journey toward this school system transformation began in 2019, when, faced with aging school buildings and a growing list of expensive maintenance requests, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners and the Guilford Country Board of Education jointly funded an independent study to gain a comprehensive picture of facility needs.

The study identified a total of $2 billion in facility needs and was used to develop a Facilities Master Plan. All schools were ranked according to their level of safety, infrastructure and technology needs and the plan recommended building seven new schools, expanding three existing schools, rebuilding 22 schools on existing sites, fully renovating 19 schools and closing 13 schools. Mobile classrooms are to be eliminated districtwide, and every school will have upgrades to address critical safety issues and provide technology appropriate to 21st century learning. Career and Technology Education program enhancements will better prepare high school students to enter the workforce (www.gcsnc.com/Bond2020).

In North Carolina, responsibility for building, equipping and maintaining school facilities is a county responsibility, per N.C. General Statue 115C-408b. The county must provide money to meet this responsibility and has placed the bond referendum and the sales tax proposal on the ballot to do so.

GCS does have one additional source of revenue for capital or facilities spending, approximately $4.75 million yearly from state Public Building Capital Funds (the school system’s share of the N.C. Education lottery). That money is currently dedicated to paying existing school bond debt.

In 2020, work on this plan began with a $300 million bond referendum to address the master plan’s most critical facility needs, 15% of total needs identified. Funding for the remaining needs is on the May 17 ballot. Bonds will be issued over a 10-year period as needs are addressed in accordance with masterplan priorities (www.guilfordcountync.gov/our-county/administration/2022-bond-information#ad-image-0).

The $0.25% sales tax increase means one extra quarter on each $100 spent. Groceries, vehicles, gasoline and prescriptions are exempt from the tax. Since state law does not allow ballot language to specify how these tax dollars will be spent, the commissioners on April 7 passed a resolution of intent stating proceeds from this sales tax increase would be used exclusively to fund school renovation needs.

The resolution also affirmed that no property taxes will automatically be raised under the bond if the sales tax passes. The sales tax should generate approximately half of repayment costs, and recent property reassessments will generate the remaining half. This sales tax will be paid not only by Guilford County residents, but also by visitors and commuters who make purchases here.

There is only one opportunity to vote on this bond and this tax. We encourage you to study these two issues carefully and to say yes to this investment in our schools and our community.

Mary Ellen Shiflett is president of the League of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad and Colleen Fairbanks is the league’s public education roundtable co-chair.

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