...continued from page 1
The Facilities Department could have allocated whatever is left over of the $221 million to building a new school, building several school additions or whatever it wanted to. It didn't. Instead, it proposed spending $75 million on 200 repair-and-upgrade projects in 12 categories at 80 schools scattered throughout the school system.
School Superintendent Mo Green used the retreat to present his 2012 four-year strategic plan for the school system, the follow-up to his previous four-year plan. Both plans include "clear baseline and equitable standards" – making sure that all Guilford County public schools meet at least a common baseline of facilities, technology, media materials, teachers and activities.
Teachers, media materials and activities don't count as capital projects, but most of the $75 million in spending proposed by Guilford County Schools administrators falls within Green's baseline equity plan. Two categories of projects – audio-video upgrades and the VoIP system – within the $75 million plan are specifically labeled as baseline projects, but many others fit within the baseline-equity plan.
What seems to be happening is that Green plans to use leftover money from the construction programs to kick-start his baseline-equity plan by roofing and repairing schools not on the project lists and then equipping schools with modern equipment that don't have it now.
Administrators then packaged the plan to sell to the school board the same way the school board sells school bond referendums to taxpayers: by splitting the projects up between different regions.
The giveaway in the presentation was that the administrators broke down the $75 million spending plan not only by priority, spending category and school system region, but by how much of the spending would be in the district of each school board member. That's a political sales job.
Of the $75 million in spending, $6.5 million would be in District 1, represented by Carlvena Foster; $13.7 million would be in District 2, represented by Ed Price; $8.3 million would be in District 3, represented by Darlene Garrett; $6.2 million would be in District 4, represented by Alan Duncan; $7.6 would be in District 5, now represented by Paul Daniels but which will be represented starting in December by Linda Welborn, because Daniels has announced he is not running for reelection; $6.4 million would be in District 6, represented by Jeff Belton; $5.9 million would be in District 7, represented by Kris Cooke; $10.5 would be in District 8, represented by Deena Hayes; $8.4 would be in District 9, represented by Amos Quick; and $1.9 million would be in administration facilities.
That distribution manages to spread the wealth among the districts of all the school board members while providing more in poorer districts.
It doesn't make much sense for Guilford County Schools administrators to plan $75 million in spending out of the $221 million and still build the $72 million airport area high school, because there are too many big-ticket school projects left for which much of the money has not been spent.
In addition to the $72 million for the high school, there is $20 million that may need to be spent for McNair Elementary School, $22 million left for the southeast area elementary school, $11 million for Allen Jay Middle School, $11 million left for the Falkener-Hairston campus autism wing, and $11 million for Southeast High School. That's more than $140 million left in construction spending for the airport area high school and other large projects – plus millions more left in the smaller projects the Facilities Department is not yet willing to close out.
It might be technically possible for the school board to spend the $75 million recommended by the Facilities Department and also build the airport area high school. That would be $215 million in spending – but wouldn't account for remaining spending on small projects, cost overruns on the airport area high school or the other remaining big projects. It would also leave the school board with little if any leftover money, something the school board hates.
It also doesn't allow for a possible fight with the county commissioners over issuing the remaining $130 million in bonds, including bonds to pay for the airport area high school, if the school board hasn't even been able to find land for that school.
The biggest indicator that administrators want the $75 million in proposed spending to come mostly from the airport area high school money is that, by dividing the spending up among all nine districts, it has created instant constituencies for its spending plan.
The second-biggest problem with the airport area high school (other than a lack of land) has always been that it has no constituency. The high school was planned to absorb enrollment growth at Northwest, Western and Southwest Guilford high schools, as predicted several years ago when Guilford County Schools was growing by 1,000 or more students a year. The school system's enrollment is now almost flat. In the seemingly endless series of public meetings the school board has held on the construction program, it's hard to remember anyone standing up and supporting the airport area high school.
The vote to spend the $15 million, on a motion by Price, was 7 to 2, with Cooke and Quick casting the two no votes.
Cooke said she and Quick voted against Price's motion because it would spend to little, not too much.
"What I voted against was that we only said we were only going to spend $15 million of what was closed out," Cooke said later. "Amos and I voted against it because I think we have more in there we could go ahead and use. I probably would have gone to 18 or 20 million."
The school board instructed the Facilities Department to come back at a regular school board meeting with a smaller list of projects on which to spend the $15 million amount decided by the vote on Price's motion.