By: Paul B. Johnson
GUILFORD COUNTY — It’s a daunting number that will consume the coming year in local education: $2 billion.
That’s the amount Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras and other school system leaders are seeking to achieve a transformation of facilities and buildings where students learn.
Just before this past Thanksgiving Day, Contreras and school system leaders unveiled the audacious proposal to spend $2 billion over roughly 15 years to remake classroom settings in all county schools. The plan includes $320 million for High Point schools through upgrades and new facilities at High Point Central High School, T. Wingate Andrews High School, Southwest Guilford High School, and the middle and elementary feeder schools for the three high schools.
Overall, the plan would include safety and technology upgrades at all schools, construction of 22 new school buildings, renovation of 19 other schools and eliminating more than 500 mobile classrooms.
But the question that will shift to the forefront of discussion about the county schools in 2020 is how to raise the money.
Members of the Guilford County Board of Education and Guilford County Board of Commissioners began meeting late last year to deliberate over funding approaches. The next joint meeting of the school board and commissioners is scheduled for Jan. 21.
Advocates for the proposal, including leaders of Business High Point-Chamber of Commerce, want county leaders to present a bond referendum issue to voters in this fall’s election.
Speaking of the election, voters will pick four of nine school board members through the March 3 primary and Nov. 3 general election. Democrats who control the school board now by a 6-3 margin are assured of at least a 5-4 majority following the fall election based on which candidates filed last month for the school board contests.
While the $2 billion transformation proposal will gain front-and-center attention, the school board and commissioners still have to hash out the annual funding for the school system. The next fiscal year begins July 1, and deliberations over the annual county contribution to the school system budget should gear up later this winter.
The school board proposes a budget to the commissioners seeking county funding, and the commissioners have the final say on the matter.