County discusses school needs

Cinde Ingram, The High Point Enterprise, N.C.
·4 min read

Mar. 6—GUILFORD COUNTY — During the second day of its annual retreat, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners discussed how to put their priorities into action.

Board members said they want to work closer with the school district on future planning for its buildings. Chairman Skip Alston said he wants to hear from school board members about their needs.

After noting the comprehensive school facilities master plan developed by a joint committee of county and school board members two years ago, board member Carly Cooke questioned whether bringing both groups back to the table is needed in light of the board's goal for more intentional collaboration.

"Although we were a part of putting it together, I think the ownership belongs with them first," Alston said.

Alston agreed with Cooke's thinking that the county needs to determine how quickly it can work to issue bonds to pay for future school building needs, and get clarification from staff about when that funding is possible.

"We are in the process of reestablishing that facilities committee," Alston said.

At-large board member Kay Cashion said she wants board members to be briefed more frequently about the status of school construction voters approved in a $300 million bond referendum in November 2020. The master plan developed by the school district had listed more than $2 billion in school construction needs, so the district will focus on the schools with the greatest need during the first phase of bond construction. Land purchases for all phases are also included.

"I would like to be kept in the loop more frequently," Cashion said. "Because the public is very interested in this and they're asking ongoing questions."

County Manager Michael Halford agreed with the need to keep the public updated on school construction. He asked whether board members are interested in exploring the potential for shared use of school facilities, such as to extend public health services at night or during summer breaks.

Board member Mary Beth Murphy said it's common for individual schools to establish shared use in their communities. For example, the school where she teaches already shares use of its track with nearby Guilford College.

Ways to make buildings accessible for shared uses after hours can be part of the front-end design process for schools being renovated or replaced, Halford said. The schools' maintenance schedules may have to be changed if facilities are made available for broader public use, he said.

Murphy spoke in support of such a collaboration and taking a risk of thinking outside the box.

"It should be a win-win for everyone in our community," Murphy said.

Cashion also agreed with Halford's suggestion of systemwide shared use of school facilities and other buildings.

"The school is the center of the community and it serves more than just public education," Cashion said. "I would like for us to think in terms of future use for bricks and mortar."

Vice Chair Carlvena Foster said the Guilford County Schools district originally requested $9 million for their facilities, but had to regroup when it didn't get what it needed.

"Then COVID hit, which has brought to light other needs in the district," Foster said. "I agree with everybody that says we need to revisit promptly with the school system, but I don't think we want to revisit to the point where we're throwing out all these things that we want to see when originally they had a plan. I do agree we need to revisit and find out what their current needs are."

Board member James Upchurch said people in his High Point district are concerned about school district lines. He said there are students who live across the street from a school but ride a bus to a school 12 to 15 minutes away. Those students who have single parents and siblings may not be able to participate in extracurricular activities in their schools.

Board member Alan Perdue said future needs and operating costs need to be considered when designing schools. He called for transparency when decisions are made to explain the priority of schools to be renovated.

"I think we have a smart forward-thinking school board and superintendent," Alston said.

Halford said the county board and the community need to be refreshed on how the $300 million is being spent and on the school system's $2 billion spending plan. "Let's try to get some updates, sooner rather than later," he said.

The board also discussed at length the need for more school nurses and received estimates on those costs. County staff members voiced their own concerns about salary and safety.

cingram@hpenews.com — 336-888-3534 — @HPEcinde