The Co-Cos Dislike the Bond


The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Full coverage of this massive school bond continues.

Even though this is a graphic from the L.A. school district, the message is the same…where does the bond money go and where will it end?

Tuesday evening, school officials passed a nearly half-a-billion-dollar proposed bond referendum on an 8-3 vote that’s currently awaiting County Commissioner approval before it is scheduled for a ballot position next May.

Today’s News & Record eludes to the fact that this bond is in trouble, not only with county commissioners, not only with voters, but some on the GCS Board itself.

N&R: Bond supporters will have to convince voters they’re getting a good value for their tax dollars, leaders said.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. “They are going to have to do a really good campaign selling the voters on this,” Guilford County Commissioner Linda Shaw said. “My concern is the amount of the bond. That is a little steep.”

A little? Try a lot!

More: Before 2000, Guilford County went 20 years without passing a school construction bond, said Frank Kendall, a Greensboro resident who has been an advocate for school bonds.

“If we had been acting responsible over those 20 years, there would be no need for bond issues all of the sudden,” Kendall said.

Wait…stop the tape. That quote speaks volumes. The key words Mr. Kendall used were ‘acting responsible.’ What’s that? GCS acting responsible?

Here’s more: Commissioner Billy Yow, who said he won’t support the bond referendum, asked why other counties seem to be able to build schools for less money.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. “If people don’t want higher taxes, they are going to have to stop voting for these bonds,” he said.

You know Billy’s right, don’t you? It doesn’t take rocket science to understand what’s going on here, right?

Last excerpt: Board members asked the school staff to investigate whether other districts are building schools for less money. But Superintendent Terry Grier defended the cost estimates to the board, saying they are in line with other areas of the state.

District officials have investigated other school projects and found little difference in the costs per square foot, said [Joe] Hill, the facilities consultant.

“We don’t have the cheapest schools in North Carolina, nor do we have the highest price,” Hill said. “We are just about average with the costs of facilities we are seeing across the state.”

No they are not, Terry, Joe. You have all of the evidence and the numbers right in front of you and once again, if Winston-Salem, only 20 miles away, can build similar schools at much cheaper prices, then we’re doing something wrong.

My friends…start doing you homework now. GCS will pull out all the stops and spin this thing nine ways to Sunday to get you to vote yes on these bonds, so be prepared. Don’t fall for the spin.

No one here is against building new schools, they are needed. We’re against waste and mismanagement. Hey GCS, start acting responsibly, prove that you can manage a checkbook and we’ll vote for a bond (maybe). Provide responsible numbers, and have them ready when Board members ask for them, and we may vote for a bond (maybe).

But right now, as is, this bond is sunk. And all of that time and effort and work has been wasted. If I was on the Board right now, I would be preparing my Plan B.


More coverage from my friend Sam Hieb over at Piedmont Publius…click here.


UPDATE: 12/6/07, 10:08am: Lead editorial in today’s N&R gives more coverage:

The Guilford County school board’s $457 million bond proposal promises to start lively discussions.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. “There’s a whole litany of questions we want to ask,” Commissioner Kirk Perkins said Wednesday.

The school board approved the list of projects Tuesday. Commissioners must decide by January whether to put the measure on the ballot in May. They won’t be an easy sell, but voters could be even tougher. That’s the time of year they’ll be hearing about annual city and county property tax increases. Some are bound to be wary of more spending.

Yet, the need for new schools and improved facilities is obvious. With enrollment growth exceeding an average of 1,000 a year, projects funded by previous bond packages — $200 million in 2000 and $300 million in 2003 — haven’t met the demand.

“I know we need schools,” Commissioner Linda Shaw said. “I know we need schools desperately, still.”

But questions come up about costs and what residents can afford.

Perkins noted the county is “just getting into the meat of paying for some of the last bonds.”

Debt service limits the money available for operational expenses, which escalate each year.

Then there’s the issue of how much it costs to build schools.

“My biggest question is why is it costing us so much more than some of the other counties?” Shaw asked.

Pages of variables make actual comparisons difficult, but a study for Wake County completed in April placed Guilford County on top of a list of peer systems in total project cost per student for middle and high schools, and lower only than Wake County for elementary schools. The other systems were Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Forsyth County, Clark County, Nev. (Las Vegas), Orange County, Fla. (Orlando) and Gwinnett County, Ga. (Suwanee).

Some systems save money by building project labs instead of traditional libraries/media centers, not installing full-service kitchens and creating multipurpose spaces instead of separate gyms, auditoriums and cafeterias.

Some systems also stretch the number of productive classroom hours by utilizing year-round schedules.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. Guilford County built Northern High School large enough to absorb future growth and with green technology. Those approaches added to its cost but might produce savings later. Maybe that’s a smart strategy that should govern future building.

Also wise would be far-sighted planning that steers residential growth to areas where existing schools have available capacity or where it makes the most sense, because of land costs or other factors, to place new ones.

When so much money is at stake for facilities that are so important to the community’s future, asking a litany of questions is a good idea.


E.C. 🙂


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