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The bond referendum

by Jordan Green

Parents from southeastern Guilford County comprised the vast majority in the crowd at Smith High School’s auditorium on April 25 as the Guilford County School Board took comments on a proposed $450 million school bond.

One of the four new schools included on the bond referendum is a new elementary school with 700 seats in the southeast, priced at $32.1 million. The school district also proposes to build a new gym, and increase dining hall and media center capacity at Southeast Middle School; and build a new media center and gymnasium and add classrooms at Southeast High School, at a total cost of $43.2 million.

If the Guilford County Commission approves the bond referendum being added to the ballot, voters will have an opportunity to vote on the measure.

“Parents at Southeast have been quiet for too long, and unfortunately our kids have suffered,” said John King, one of the commenters.

The southeast parents have a high-profile spokeswoman in Fox8 WGHP anchor Cindy Farmer, who has two daughters at Alamance Elementary.

“What I’m worried about is Southeast Middle,” she told the board. “The bond referendum only has money to increase capacity for the dining room and media center, but no money to increase capacity. We have teachers that are teaching off carts. We need more classroom space. Bathrooms are horrendous. There are too many students and not enough staff. I am really afraid this is going to become a health issue soon. We haven’t received any new money since Ford was president.”

Thanks to critical questioning from Joe Stafford, a frequent burr under the board’s saddle, members also discussed the merits of using bond funds to pay for athletic facilities. Stafford characterized a $2.3 million bond commitment to improve athletic facilities at Page High School as a case of “the rich get richer” given that an alumni association has already raised money for the project – $30,000, according to Board member Kris Cooke, whose district encompasses the school.

“Coming from the northwest, I really do not appreciate Joe’s comment about ‘the rich get richer,'” said District 3 Board member Darlene Garrett. “Northwest [High School]’s needs are really great. We are the largest school. If we were to qualify for playoffs we could not host them because we do not have enough seats.”

Northwest High School is slated to receive $2.3 million to increase seating capacity at its football stadium.

Chairman Alan Duncan applauded Page High School boosters for taking the initiative to raise money, adding that even though he’s a Page parent he did not vote for bond funding for the school. He did support $3.5 million to improve the football stadium at Dudley High School in southeast Greensboro.

“It’s antiquated and close to dilapidated,” he said. “It has a track within that stadium that isn’t built to regulation. We have state champions at that school. That’s inequitable. It’s unfair.”

Board members indicated that reductions in public education funding by the Guilford County Commission have forced the school district to turn to bond issues as a way to pay for maintenance. Dot Kearns, an at-large member from High Point, characterized the inclusion of maintenance items in the bond as “a new concept,” adding, “It is only good stewardship to take care of what you’ve got.”

Frank Kendall, who led successful efforts to pass the most recent bond issue in 2003, said the current effort appeared to be driven by both the need to catch up on overdue commitments and to accommodate significant student population growth. The last bond issue was for $300 million.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer that this thing is needed,” he said.

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.

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