This blog post is to share the results of some research I did response to a recent voicemail message left by a News & Record reader.
In an article published the weekend before last, I briefly referenced a 1991 vote by county residents to approve a merger of the three school districts: Greensboro, High Point and the county. The reader said her memory was that the state forced the hand of the district by passing something to fund only one school district per county. So she asked that I take a look at the records.
I'll say at this point that I was neither in the Triad nor covering education in 1991, though there are definitely still some veterans here at the News & Record that remember that era.
After a day's worth of virtual digging through our News & Record article archives (going day-by-day through headlines at one point), here's what I found:
In 1991, many school districts in the state were having conversations about potentially merging within counties. In Guilford County, as I mentioned, there were three districts. The Greensboro and High Point school districts, however, weren't even the full size of those cities, because the cities had expanded due to annexations and the city school districts hadn't expanded simultaneously.
There were many reasons pro-and-con brought up by people on different sides of the issue; generally leaders of the High Point and Greensboro school districts were supportive and leaders of the county school district were opposed.
In the midst of that discussion, state legislators passed a bill mandating a referendum in Guilford County on the issue, provided the school districts didn't come to a merger agreement of their own.
The referendum gave voters two options. One option was the merging of the three school districts into one district.
The other option was to expand the city school districts out to the full size of their cities. That option would also provide that the school districts would continue to expand if the cities ever annexed more of the unincorporated county. That second option would have caused the county school district to lose nearly half its students to the city districts.
The status quo was not an option in the referendum. So essentially, the state legislature was mandating a change, but leaving some choice about what the change would be.
Voters chose merger: 60 percent voted for it and 40 percent voted against. The News & Record reported some anecdotes which suggested some people voted for the merger grudgingly, or didn't vote because they didn't like either option. For example, one article featured a man who fought tooth and nail against the merger, only to decide to vote for it when it became obvious what the only alternative was.
The same spring that the state legislature passed the law requiring Guilford County to hold the referendum, the state legislature also considered changing its funding formulas to only pay for administrators for one school system per county.
As far as I can tell from the archives, that never passed. The last reference to it in 1991 that I found was to say it was still in the Senate's version of the budget, but that the House hadn't picked it up. Later articles about the upcoming merger vote don't mention anything about any potential for the state to kill funding if three school districts remained.