County Commissioners put bonds on ballot


County Commissioners put bonds on ballot
August 11
05:20 2016

Public sounds off on the bonds before the vote



It’s all up to the voters now, as the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners voted to place $430 million in bonds on the November ballot.

Commissioners voted on the measure during its regular meeting on Monday, Aug. 8, after a public comment session on the bonds. The vote was 5-2 with County Commissioners Richard Linville and Gloria Whisenhunt voting against it. Both have voiced opposition to the size of the bonds, saying it was too much debt for the county to take on if voters approve them. Whisenhunt also said she felt the eight-year window for the school bond funds to be allocated was too long and that current needs may change over that time span.

Before the vote, there was a public comment period with proponents and opponents each using most of their allocated 15 minutes to speak on the $350 million school bond.

Members of the Community School Bond Coalition wanted changes to the bond because they felt it lacks equity. Robert Leak III said he felt not enough was being done for Easton Elementary and East Winston. Carolyn Highsmith, president of the New South Community Coalition, asked that the work be monitored so priority projects were done in a timely manner. Ike Howard, president of the local NAACP chapter, said there was no “proper” middle school in East Winston and that many parents are sending their children elsewhere.

“Where do those kids go to school around East Winston?” he asked. “They don’t go to school in East Winston.”

In a letter to the commissioners, the coalition asked for the construction of a new middle school in East Winston. It also objected to the $25 million replacement school for Ashley Academy being removed from the bond and replaced with $900,000 for a shovel-ready plan to be implemented in a future bond. The letter also opposed the new middle school at Smith Farm to relieve Southeast Middle School, because the coalition said it will increase racial and economic segregation.

County Commissioner Everette Witherspoon responded, saying that the biggest single bond project involved replacing an East Winston school, with nearly $47 million going to build a new home for Lowrance Middle School on the campus of Paisley IB Magnet School and to also expand the existing school there.

Also in the bond, Easton Elementary has $9 million to add 12 classrooms, a new cafeteria and two pre-K classrooms. There are improvements to schools across the system, such as equipping every classroom with new technology and updating media centers with a 3-D printer in every school.

County Commissioner Walter Marshall responded by saying that students are going to school outside of East Winston, not because there aren’t enough schools there, but because that’s where parents are choosing to send them. Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy has a middle and high school in that part of town, but is under capacity. The school system has been looking at ways to attract more students to WSPA. School system officials have said the new schools, along with replacements and expansions of existing ones in the bond, are focused on relieving schools that are over capacity.

There were also several speakers like Robert Watkins, who felt it was just too much debt for the county to take on.

“Is that fiscal responsibility?” he asked. “Is that for the future of our children?”

A string of other speakers, including Ronda Mays, president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators, and several principals felt it would be money well spent. Lowrance Middle School Principal Peggy Dickey said it would be good for the community and for her school, which had to move because of toxicity concerns on its old campus.

“Right now we’re a wing and a pod at Atkins High School because we had to move, and we’re woefully in need of some space,” she said.

School board members like Elisabeth Motsinger also spoke in support of the bond.

“Budgets are moral statements and they say what we value and we back it up with dollars,” she said. “Our children obviously should be our shared, most precious resource.”

The school bond is one of three bonds the commissioners approved. The other two are a $65 million Forsyth Tech Bond and a $15 million parks and recreation bond. If all three are approved, county property taxes will increase by 3.6 cents in 2018 per $100 of property value and another 3.8 cents in 2022.

Community School Bond Coalition members said Monday they hadn’t decided yet whether to support the school bond in November.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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