SEAC challenges Huey’s views on the Bonds

The image “https://i0.wp.com/www.southeastguilford.org/images/SEMiddle1.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. Hope everyone had a good weekend.

I wanted to address this out in the open because this outlines my plans for dealing school construction and being fiscally conservative about it.

I received a message from Linda Welborn, a pointperson with the Southeast Educational Advancement Coalition, which is advocating for better schools in the southeast quadrant of Guilford County. She and I met at a Board meeting last year in discussing K-8 schools.

Ms. Welborn wrote in to request clarification of my views on the half-a-billion dollar school bond:

Currently, both the middle school and high school are close to 30% of their student body being taught in mobile suburbs with 13 and 17 mobile units respectively. Southeast is one of the major growth areas, which will intensify the stress that is being placed on our schools. All three schools are in major disrepair. The schools in this area, I know for a fact are deterrents for home buyers.

I’ve read your official positions on schools and agree with most if not all and feel you will be an asset to our schools. However, reading your web site and hearing all the negative commentary and your statement, “They really need a wing and a prayer to get this thing passed. I wish them luck.”, is troublesome. The bloggers writing I hope they don’t use the tactic a vote “NO” is a vote against children. Well, folks it is! Who’s going to feel the repercussions of that vote! The commissioners, the school board, NO, it’s the children in the schools that are in desperate need of funding. I have stated, I’m not excited about taxes escalating. However, I don’t know how else to get the much needed funding for our schools! We have 115 schools in GC. Just like houses schools have to be renovated they don’t last for ever! The growth rate is 1300 students a year. Combine those two factors, you have schools in disrepair and major over-crowding which leads to a very costly endeavor to keep pace with need.
I understand that county residents want construction done in a more cost effective way! Fine, the way to do that is to get a school board in place that will ask for audits, have an outside firm manage the construction and a firm come in to analyze ways to cut costs. But voting, “NO” for this bond will majorly delay much needed funding getting to schools. In watching the commissioners meeting on 1/17/08, I wanted to ask the commissioners where their children go to school, because most of them really didn’t give me the impression they truly understand the condition of some of our schools.
Yes, other ways for funding our schools need to be looked. Property owners shouldn’t be the only ones shouldering the cost of educating our children. Everyone should be taken some of that burden. There is a large population that is not contributing and we need to find a way to share the burden. Developers that continue to build houses in areas that can not support the influx of students, should be contributing to the cost of educating these students.
We are one of the major migration states our student population is growing! The commissioners and the school board need to work together in assessing where GC schools are and develop a long term plan for getting our schools where they should be and how to pay for getting them there.

The current administration, is what we have. There are no quick fixes to these issues and we have schools needing funding NOW! If the bond is voted down, what is your answer for the children in the SE and other areas that truly needed that funding? What is your estimations on when they will see some relief? The allocations on that current proposed bond for the SE will merely offer some relief, it is far from satisfying what is needed in this area. Are these children supposed to continue to suffer with unacceptable conditions until who knows when our administrators work these issues out? Voting “NO”, will have no impact making administrators look at excess expenditures. But the children dealing with inadequate facilities and over-crowding will feel the full force of that VOTE!
I’m looking for answers! You tell me how the schools in the SE and other areas can get relief if this bond does not pass?
Sincerely,
Linda Welborn
SEAC
**************************
I wanted to do a posting on this, as I stated earlier, because I know I will get asked this during the campaign. This will be a campaign issue.

Here’s my response:

I can understand your concerns about my viewpoints on the bond package and I hope I am able to clarify some of my positions.

On school construction, our school board has failed our children in a number of key areas. Their failure to properly plan for growth, coupled with the abject failure of our county commissioners to plan for growth has allowed our schools to be in the disrepair and deplorable shape they’re in now. This problem did not occur overnight. It should not have taken 25 years to build a new high school in Guilford County (Northern Guilford H.S.).

Similarly, when a bond was passed in 2003, it allowed for the funding for a new Jamestown Middle School. Sadly, that school was never built. The GCS Board admitted its error in public session this past fall. Now, JMS is once again on this bond. There’s money to build this school and there’s no reason why it had to be included in another bond. It is a slap in the face to the Jamestown community, who have to be told to wait because GCS screwed up.

As you know, my campaign is running on a fiscally conservative platform, primarily to prevent the screw-ups we’ve seen, such as this. You’re right; taxpayers should not have to constantly bear and shoulder the burden of public education. But it will keep happening unless some drastic measures are put into place.

Long-range, North Carolina is only one of a handful of states that funds education the way we do, which is via county commissioners. I’m of the opinion that the state funding formula needs to be changed. This will require a closer scrutiny of who’s running the show in Raleigh, and it may even require a change of leadership in the Guilford delegation. Raleigh has tried it their way for years, and we still get the short end of the stick when it comes to public education.

There is a bill pending in a House committee to allow school districts to have taxing authority which will enable them to bypass county commissioners altogether to fund schools. This will not eliminate the state’s responsibility of fully funding education and while it may work in other municipalities, I do not support this for GCS at this time. GCS has not been a good steward of the taxpayer’s checkbook and until dramatic changes are made (which I am proposing as part of my platform), I will never support taxing authority for GCS.

Now, how this relates to the bond and the SE area schools is this…I support best practices for school construction in Guilford County. Currently, this is not the case in our county. When a new high school can be built only 30 miles away for less than half of what it is costing us to build a school in Guilford County, there is a fundamental problem.

If the bond does not pass, here is my plan for relief…within the first 30 days of me taking office, I plan to begin an immediate dialogue on public-private partnerships as it relates to school construction in Guilford County. I will ask staff to begin the process and will demand that they report back within 30-60 days.

PPPs will allow GCS to work closer with the county commissioners (instead of against the county the commissioners) and the business community to build schools jointly or on a lease-back situation, saving money and using best practices. There’s a problem when a Wal-Mart can be built within six months, but it takes two years to build a school.

Here are some links on public-private partnerships in school construction (pop that whole term in Google, and it will light up with links):

1. The Heritage Foundation did a white paper back in 1999, but the general backgrounder is still relevant:

http://www.heritage.org/Research/Education/Schools/BG1257.cfm

2. The Michigan Education Report has a pretty good white paper and details the cost-savings:

http://www.educationreport.org/article.aspx?ID=7511

3. Wake County…just recently, Wake Co. Public Schools issued a statement touting their new initiatives for PPPs:http://www.wcpss.net/news/2008_jan30_ppp/

4. National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities; links to several case-studies:

http://www.edfacilities.org/rl/funding_partnerships.cfm

It can be done in Guilford County.

Next, within 90 days of me taking office, I will ask staff to begin seeking bids for an outside organization to handle all real estate and construction matters for Guilford County Schools. GCS is in the business of educating children, not purchasing real estate and handling construction. Our current model actually discourages multiple bidders on GCS construction projects, creating an “invisible” premium on these projects. And as you’ve seen with the recent construction debacles at Dudley, Kernodle, and the Smith Academy (among others), the taxpayers are not getting a proper return on investment.

I will also demand a regular series of outside audits to make sure there is no hanky-panky going on.

I will also demand within the first 30-60 days of me taking the oath that staff begin the process of posting the check registers somewhere prominently on the GCS Website. Taxpayers have the right to know where the money is going and money constantly disappears within GCS.

County Commissioner Skip Alston said recently he’s wondering why students at Dudley don’t have textbooks. I’m wondering the same thing. When it was discovered recently that Northern Guilford H.S. did not have seed money to pay its telephone bill, that’s a problem. When I taught at Andrews H.S. a couple of years ago, we were constantly told to cut our budget and cut again. Meanwhile, there was no money to buy printer ink cartridges for classroom printers. Copy paper was rationed. There was no soap for school bathrooms. This is a highly-impacted school, and there was no money for soap for school bathrooms.

By posting these registers, combined with regular audits, this will, at the very least, allow closer scrutiny of where your taxpayer money is going. It can be done and it is legal. National school reform advocate Peyton Wolcott (on the Web at http://www.peytonwolcott.com) has a detailed listing of how many school districts across the county are doing this on her Web site.

I’m very serious about demanding transparency in our county schools.

Now, you’re right, there are no quick fixes, nor easy answers. But I hope that what I have detailed here can reassure you that I’m committed to reaching every child in every school across this county. Our children have the right to be educated in classrooms, not trailers. My plan will (hopefully) allow that happen. It may not occur overnight, but it will be the start of something that should have been ongoing. I’m proposing bold solutions, because we have some pretty bold problems in GCS.

Please let me know if I can answer any additional questions or address any additional concerns you may have.

**************************

Now, this bond may pass. And if it does, I will respect the will of the voters. I still plan to put my proposals into action. I have to. Our children deserve no less.

I was asked recently by our friend “Stormy” this question on another post:

“Erik, will you work to ensure that our schools become quality, rather than what they have allowed to become?”

I think that the proposals I’ve outlined here will allow our county school system to be the envy of the state, rather than the laughing stock, as it is now.

E.C. 🙂

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3 Responses

  1. Hey Linda – guess what 15 and 17 mobiles is NOTHING!

    There is a particular high school in this county with 29 trailers. It’s in my district and it has more mobiles than any other school in this county.

    I’m still voting NO because I only trust 4 of the 11.

  2. “I will also demand within the first 30-60 days of me taking the oath that staff begin the process of posting the check registers somewhere prominently on the GCS Website. Taxpayers have the right to know where the money is going and money constantly disappears within GCS.”

    Erik, I know where you got this idea, and it really is working in some enlightened districts. It is a great way that our school board could bring some transparency into the process, but I have grave doubts that this board would ever agree to it. They are into oversight by secret. But, this is the one thing that could quickly and easily be done to begin establishing trust with the public. Why wait until after you are elected to propose it? Why not present it at the next meeting in public session and every session after that until someone listens? Maybe with enough public airing of the idea, they’ll start to listen, and you get credit for it now.

    It’s true that this county needs new schools, but as long as the people that sit on this board are there, I can not support a new bond. You rightly pointed-out that the 2003 bond was passed, and it promised facility relief to some areas, but in reality, that facility relief never happened for some. Many of those parents went out and worked very hard to build support for the bond, thinking that their child would get those new facilities…”It’s for the children”, only to be disappointed. How can you trust these people to do what they promise? Although, he is no longer here, Terry Grier made the statement that they never promised to do everything on the 2003 bond list. If that is the attitude, then I have no trust, and with not trust, I will not vote yes for bonds.

    You stated that it took two years to get a new school, well, Northern was in the bond that passed in October 2003, and Northern just opened in January 2008. That’s no two years. It’s more like four years. And, other school districts can build schools quicker and for as little as 1/2 what GCS can build them for. GCS needs to revise their thinking of what is needed in schools, or they will never catch-up. Too much space per student, too much expense per student, green schools using rainwater to flush toilets, huge common areas with atriums are all luxuries that do not contribute to learning. Direct Ms. Welborn to my post on what makes a quality school. If you had all of the other ingredients in place, kids could learn just fine in a renovated Big Lots building. We’ve got to think differently on the school facilities matter. Safe and sound is necessary, Taj Mahals are not. We can do a better job of educating in this county with real leadership.

  3. Erik.

    Here’s a story that you might relate to Ms. Wlborn.

    “A new Arizona state law to require employers to verify the immigration status of employees is being blamed ? and credited ? for chasing illegal aliens out of the state.

    It’s the second such development in just the last week: WND reported earlier how a new Oklahoma law requiring the deportation of arrested illegal aliens was prompting an exodus from that state.

    The developments are the result of state actions already launched when a brokered plan in the U.S. Senate to create a path to legal residency for the millions of illegal aliens in the country collapsed.

    The new report comes from the Arizona Republic, which said the state’s strong economy has been a magnet for illegal aliens for years, but the law is looming on Jan. 1.

    “I would say we are losing at least 100 people a day,” Elias Bermudez, founder of Immigrants Without Borders and host of a daily talk-radio program aimed at undocumented immigrants, told the newspaper. ”

    And, as a result of this evacuation by illegals, over-crowding in Arizona public schools is being alleviated. The illegals are going across the border to Sonora, and their children are filling-up Sonora schools. A delegation fro Sonora went to meet with Arizona legislature to complain about their new law which was driving illegals out of the country and over-crowding their schools. How ironic.

    What’s the odds that much of the over-crowding in Guilford County might go away if the illegals left this county? And, we wouldn’t have to invest so much of out assets in teaching English as a second language, and we wouldn’t have to be discussing $1/2 billion school bonds. Anyone want to bet that much of the growth in this county is driven by illegals?

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