March 21, 2013The Guilford County Board of Education is finally asking the county commissioners for something other than money.
On Thursday, March 14, at a meeting between the school board's Legislative Committee and a contingent of county commissioners, school officials let the commissioners know a few of the things on the school's legislative wish list this year.
School Board Members Rebecca Buffington, Linda Welborn, Darlene Garrett and Ed Price attended the meeting in the school's administrative building at 712 N. Eugene St., as did Guilford County School Superintendent Mo Green, Chief Financial Officer Angie Henry and Chief of Staff Nora Carr.
They met with Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Linda Shaw, and Commissioners Bill Bencini and Kay Cashion, along with Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne and interim County Manager/Assistant Manager/Human Resources Director Sharisse Fuller.
School officials said they asked for the meeting to make the county commissioners aware of some of the school's legislative initiatives for the General Assembly. However, at times the meeting turned into a free-for-all discussion that hit on everything from iPad insurance to the Brunswick County manager that Guilford County is expected to hire this week.
At the meeting, school officials asked for the commissioners to support lobbying efforts that would give Guilford County schools the same sales tax break cities, counties and nonprofit schools and church schools enjoy.
Those entities get the sales taxes they pay refunded by the state. However, there's no such refund for public school systems. Guilford County school officials said they would like to see that state law changed and they want the commissioners to help make that happen.
Guilford County Board of Commissioners Chairman Linda Shaw asked if this was something that school board members had requested of state legislators before, and Shaw got a loud chorus in response: The school board members almost all said some version of, "Yes, every year!"
Henry said the schools should enjoy the same sales tax benefit the county does.
"It would have been one million additional dollars to educate our children," Henry said. "We would like to go as a joint team to legislators or send emails."
Henry said the county and the school system would both benefit if the state granted the request.
The school board also asked the Board of Commissioners to petition state legislators to restore funding for college textbooks for students who take college courses at Guilford Technical Community College, or other area colleges, as part of the school system's career and technical training programs.
North Carolina pays some of the costs associated with those programs; however, school officials said at the meeting that college textbook funds for that purpose had been slashed in recent years.
Carr said, "College texts are very expensive and some families don't have $100 or $150 for books."
School officials didn't go into whether or not used books were an option – a time honored practice of students watching their money.
At the meeting, the school officials and commissioners also talked briefly about proposed statewide legislation that would allow counties to take over ownership of school buildings. As it is now, the schools own those buildings.
Price said, "It's no problem whatsoever if the county commissioners want to take over these buildings – I've got a stack of emails I need to give you."
At the meeting, the commissioners had a few questions for the school board members on other topics. For instance, Shaw wanted to know if the school system is planning on buying insurance on the millions of dollars worth of iPads the schools will soon buy for middle school students as part of a grant program.
"Absolutely," Green told them.
He said the schools had already conducted a pilot program with iPads in an elementary school, and Green said that lost or stolen iPads hadn't been a problem. He added, however, that distributing iPads in county middle schools would be "a new experience."
The first 20 minutes of the committee meeting were spent with the commissioners and school board members discussing the prospective hiring of Brunswick County Manager Marty Lawing as the next Guilford County manager. The story had just broken that morning when The Rhinoceros Times was delivered an hour or so before the meeting took place.
While the committee meeting was primarily used to address the legislative concerns, school officials did use the forum to hint at the schools' increasing needs for the upcoming 2013-2014 county budget.
After the meeting, Green said the school board would have an official request for the county portion of the school's operating funds soon. He said that, after the economic crisis in 2008, the county commissioners had been good about keeping Guilford County's school funding for operations at previous levels – despites cuts in other counties across the state, but more funding from the county was now needed.
This year, as every year, the schools are expected to request an increase in county funding.