Take Back Our Schools-GCS and Guilford County taxpayers have justifiable apprehensions about the $1.7 Billion School Bond. Although we, at Take Back Our Schools, are in full support of construction and renovations needs for Guilford County Schools (“GCS”), we are not in support of a dubious bond that binds Guilford County taxpayers without accountability or transparency by those responsible for allocating funds.
Considering the current Superintendent has announced her resignation, via a press conference and press release back in January, 2022, with intentions to leave at the end of the 2021-2022 school year, and a change of up to 5 Board of Education (“BOE”) seats and 5 County Commissioner (“BOCC”) seats this November, it would be prudent to wait until the new boards are elected and new Superintendent hired to revisit immediate construction needs vs. long-term needs.
We, at Take Back Our Schools, have done extensive research to have a better understanding of how GCS and the BOE have applied funds and bonds in the past. Due to the BOE and GCS Administration’s lack of transparency and delayed information via public records request, it has proven difficult to get straight answers.
Our group of community volunteers has discovered several misappropriations and wasteful spending of school funds and would like detailed clarity once the new school board has been sworn in and a new Superintendent has been hired.
Until then, we, the Guilford County taxpayers, intend to vote NO on the $1.7 Billion School Bond. #NOforNow
Take Back Our Schools has shared evidence-based information with the Guilford County taxpayers via the Take Back Our Schools website, social media, monthly meetings, Letter to the Editor, and press releases to name a few. Based on the feedback from our audience, Guilford County taxpayers are most concerned with the following:
$300M School Bond. A $300 Million school bond was passed from the 2020 election, however, projects slated from that bond have changed, schematic designs are still being evaluated and projects are already over budget before even breaking ground. It would be irresponsible for Guilford County taxpayers to approve a $1.7 Billion school bond when the last school bond has yet to be fully budgeted and encumbered. In addition, there is questionable spending from the $300 Million bond that needs clarification. https://www.gcsnc.com/Bond2020
Financial Accountability. In regards to the $300 Million bond from the 2020 election, Chief Financial Officer (“CFO”), Angie Henry, stated “About $24 Million was spent on project management, and design and some early site work possibly.” Based on professional evaluations, $24 Million is an exorbitant amount of money to spend on design and site work. The CFO uses words such as “about”, “possibly”, “suspect”, “still mostly”, “a lot of dollars” to describe how funds have been received, transferred and encumbered.
Kiser Middle School. From the $300 Million bond, $55 Million is allocated for Kiser Middle School. However, Superintendent Contreras anticipates the cost to be 2 to 3 times higher. Inflation alone cannot be used as an excuse. The design of the school seems to be a problematic reason for going over budget—not to mention the “innovative” school design poses questions of maintenance and school safety.
Misplaced Priorities. GCS has reallocated $700,000 maintenance budget for a recording studio at one of the magnet schools. While many school buildings are in much needed maintenance, GCS has prioritized money for non-essentials. https://www.gcsnc.com/cms/lib/NC01910393/Centricity/Domain/234/2021-08-19%20Retreat%20Minutes.pdf
Emergency Powers. On March 13, 2020, the BOE voted to give the Superintendent emergency. To this date, the Superintendent still has emergency powers indefinitely until Governor Cooper’s emergency powers are terminated. By giving emergency powers to the Superintendent eliminates representation by the Board of Education. Guilford County residents have no representation. https://www.gcsnc.com/cms/lib/NC01910393/Centricity/Domain/234/2020-03-13%20Emergency%20Meeting%20Minutes.pdf
Abusing Authority. Under Dr. Contreras leadership, the BOE meeting rooms were remodeled during COVID shutdowns. Dr. Contreras made this unilateral decision using emergency powers. She did not inform the Board nor sought Board approval. BOE members were not even aware the BOE meeting rooms were being remodeled until after it was completed, when the BOE returned to in-person meetings. The cost to remodel the Board rooms was $432,878. [Note what powers were given to the Superintendent during the March 13, 2020 Emergency BOE meeting]: https://www.gcsnc.com/cms/lib/NC01910393/Centricity/Domain/234/2020-03-13%20Emergency%20Meeting%20Minutes.pdf
Budgeting and Fiscal Management. 6 of the 9 BOE members voted to give the Superintendent approval up $500,000 decision-making power on construction and/or repair contracts without Board approval. This removes checks and balances by the BOE, while giving the superintendent unsupervised allocation of taxpayers’ money up to $500,000.
Lottery Funds. The Superintendent and the BOE have agreed to allow the BOCC to apply $87.5 Million of NC Lottery funds (specifically, the Public School Building Capital Funds) towards indebtedness, instead of using it for capital needs such as construction and renovations. CFO Henry has cited a “verbal agreement” between the BOE and the BOCC to allow these funds to be applied to debt service. Mind you, these funds are “free money” and do not require a local match to spend—they just need to fund existing capital needs. [Note: In the last 6 years, since Contreras became Superintendent, there has not been one project listed on this report for GCS!] Refer to pages: 154-160: https://www.dpi.nc.gov/media/6769/download?attachment
Community Center over Safety and Security: GCS received $307,571,999 in ARP ESSER funds (federal COVID-relief). The Superintendent and the BOE have allocated $35 Million dollars of ESSER funds for a new "community center." However, the Superintendent is not satisfied with the $35 Million budget that only affords a 88,000 sq ft building. She suggested reallocating $20 Million of ESSER funds slated for safety and security to fund a larger community center. Keep in mind, ESSER funds can also be used for HVAC and roof repairs, but it seems this administration would choose to fund a community center over funding the needs of school buildings.
DISTRIBUTION OF NC EDUCATION LOTTERY FUNDS
Guilford County residents and GCS Families, are you paying attention?
Since 2007, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) and the Guilford County Board of Education (BOE) have been applying NC Lottery Funds to debt service (aka school bond debt). Per GCS Chief Financial Officer, Angie Henry, this practice is due to a “verbal agreement” between the BOCC and the BOE. The amount of money in question totals over $87.5M. Since 2016, under the helm of Superintendent Sharon Contreras, over $28.5M dollars have been applied to debt service—per Contreras’ and Henry’s recommendation (via Memorandum) to the BOE!
Per the North Carolina Department of Instruction (NC DPI) Manual Public School Building Capital Fund (PSBCF), Lottery Funds do not require a local dollar match and can be used for capital needs, including the purchase of land and “construction” (i.e. renovations, additions, new buildings, and infrastructure to serve educational facilities). Further, Article 38A of the North Carolina General Statutes (N.C.G.S.) outlines how these funds are spent. Per N.C.G.S. 115C-546.1, “[t]he Fund (“PSBCF”) shall be used to assist county governments in meeting their public school building capital needs.” Per N.C.G.S. 115C-546.2(b), outlines qualifying capital outlay needs, and states, “In the event, a county finds that it does not need all or part of the funds allocated to it for capital outlay projects…the unneeded funds allocated to the county may be used to retire any indebtedness incurred by the county for public school facilities.”
So, I ask you: Why has the BOCC required the BOE to release Lottery Funds to satisfy debt service, when there are obviously existing capital needs within the school district? By signing the NC DPI PSBCF North Carolina Education Lottery Application, in order to have Lottery Fund monies released and applied to debt service, both BOCC and BOE are declaring not a single capital need exists for GCS, making both the BOCC, BOE, Superintendent and Chief Financial Officer complicit in defrauding GCS students, families, teachers and taxpayers of eligible monies to fix existing issues within schools—all so Guilford County can maintain a AAA credit rating and take out more debt?
And, another observation: The Lottery Funds for the 2020-2021 school year were applied to debt service, yet BOE meeting minutes does not show the BOE members ever voted on or approved the release of lottery funds—so, who authorized this transaction? Was it Contreras? One thing’s for certain—Board Chair, Deena Hayes-Greene, the signature would have to appear on the NC DPI application in order for funds to be released to the BOCC.
Again, GC residents and GCS Families, are you paying attention? Who is going to hold these individuals accountable for their damaging decisions? For years, Contreras has been declaring the students are her number one priority—and yet continues to cry how underfunded the schools are—yet she recommended over $28.5M of Lottery Funds (basically free money) over the last six years applied to debt service… Why??
We need—and demand—accountability and transparency NOW!
Krisdena Reeser, GCS Parent/Guilford County Resident