Parties Should Pool Efforts on School Bonds

Copyright 2000 News & Record (Greensboro, NC)

News & Record (Greensboro, NC)

April 3, 2000, Monday, ALL EDITIONS


In a perfect world, both Democrats and Republicans would recognize the vast expanse of common ground they share on the Guilford school bonds.

In a perfect world, both parties would see that they already have agreed in principle to the bonds, which would raise $ 200 million to finance desperately needed construction throughout the system.

Both parties agree that the plan is fiscally sound and would not require a tax increase. Both rightly have expressed concerns about the achievement gap between black and white students and the urgent need to close it.

Leaders of both parties have resolved to support the bonds, but have included in those resolutions lists of concerns, conditions or principles (depending on whom you ask). The Democrats raised questions about the academic achievement gap and the disparate suspension rates of black and white students. The Republicans included seven ”Guiding Principles” in a ”Support our Schools” pledge, signed also by some Democrats.

Both parties contain small, splintered factions in their ranks that may or may not support the bonds based on specific constituencies or political motivations. Both wrote off Republican County Commissioner Steve Arnold from day one. Neither is sure where another commissioner, Democrat Skip Alston, stands from day to day.

But in general, both parties seem actually to agree on the need for bigger, better and newer schools in Guilford County. Overcrowding in some cases has reached obscene proportions and hot, cramped, crumbling old buildings are in dire need of repair or replacement.

Even a third party with no direct stake in the outcome, Chuck Fuller, director of North Carolina Citizens for a Sound Economy, agrees that the bonds make fiscal and practical sense. Fuller is hardly a tax-and-spend liberal.

In fact, he and his Raleigh-based organization helped defeat a $ 650 million school bond referendum last year in Wake County because it would have meant a 40-percent tax increase. But he has no such reservations about the Guilford County bonds.

With the Guilford referendum barely a month away, the Republicans and the Democrats should marshal their forces and ensure that the bonds pass. But during an election year, when politicians seem more interested in accentuating their differences, would they even consider such an outlandishly sensible course of action?

”I would be more than willing,” Carolyn McGhee, chairwoman of the Guilford County Republican Party, said Friday.

Alston, who has yet to commit to the bonds, pending a conference with new Superintendent Terry Grier, said he would, too, if his concerns about minority hiring and retention are addressed.

In a perfect world, so would others. In a perfect world, it would be called leadership.

LOAD-DATE: April 5, 2000