GREENSBORO, N.C. — On Tuesday, North Carolina's Local Government Commission voted 5 to 1 to approve $1.7 billion in bonds for Guilford County Schools.
For the last 10 days, its approval was on hold until Guilford County leaders provided some additional information to the commission. If the commission did not vote to move the package forward, state officials said the county commissioners could need to "go back to the drawing board."
The $1.7 billion will fund upgrades, repairs and construction costs for schools across the district.
State officials were concerned Guilford County could accumulate a debt it couldn't pay back. Eight out of the nine members were present at the meeting Tuesday. There was one recusal and Paul Butler Jr. voted against the approval. North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell abstained from the vote.
"I hope you're all right and I'm wrong," said Folwell to Guilford County leaders Tuesday. "I'm very concerned about what's already in the oven and over-budget and the impact this is going to have since the sales tax increase did not come through. (I'm) especially concerned (about) lower and fixed income people who are paying their property taxes."
Guilford County officials said property taxes should go up about $180 dollars per home annually. Leaders said they've been transparent about the process from the start.
"Even before the election was held, (voters) knew what we (were) going to do," said Guilford County Board of Commissioners Chairman Skip Alston. "We said we (were) going rate neutral. We were going to invest money into our schools. We were going to pass a $1.7 billion bond package and they know when you pass a bond, you've got to pay for it and we are paying for the bond with the revenue generated by taxpayers."
At the meeting Tuesday, Alston, along with GCS Superintendent Dr. Whitney Oakley, GCS Chief Financial Officer Angie Henry and County Manager Michael Halford made their case to the commission on why the bond package should move forward.
"We were at the will of the voters in May," said Dr. Oakley. "The county has a sound plan for how they are going to pay for this. We also know that schools have been in disrepair for some time and schools mean a lot for economic development in our community and I think we know our kids and our teachers deserve better."
They reiterated that voters already approved the bond and, as public officials, they are carrying out their wishes.
"We can continue punishing kids or we can accept the will of the voters and move forward," said Dr. Oakley to the commission Tuesday.
But Folwell took issue with Oakley's statement Tuesday noting that "nobody, myself included, wants to punish kids. I think that was inappropriate."
On Tuesday and in an interview with News 2 Monday, Folwell criticized past Guilford County leadership, noting the disrepair in schools was due to mismanagement by officials in the county.
"Do you disagree that there's been decades of neglect as far as capital expenditures," asked Folwell Tuesday.
Chairman Skip Alston said he did agree with Folwell's statement and that the issue was past boards did not want to raise taxes.
"We are not denying that past boards have neglected Guilford County Schools. I raised my hand earlier. I was part of that. But the Board was afraid to raise taxes and do the right thing for Guilford County Schools. This is a new day. A new time," said Alston.
Alston said now is the time to move forward and learn from past mistakes to better the future.
"We now have to be able to work together," said Alston. "We represent that same people, we represent the same children. The schools problems are our problems and we were elected in order to address those problems."