In memoriam: “Everybody loved” Charlie Chusakul, who introduced Greensboro to Thai cuisine. Page A2
The Thanksgiving Day edition of the News & Record — packed with Black Friday ads — will be available today, a day early, at select locations.
We are printing Thursday’s edition early to give readers the best chance to map out their shopping strategies.
You can buy a copy of Thursday’s edition for $4 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at the News & Record’s parking lot at 200 E. Market St. in Greensboro and starting at noon at regular sales locations throughout the region. To accommodate this offering, the News & Record’s main office will close at noon.
For home subscribers, delivery schedules should not be affected.
Because of early deadlines, though, lottery numbers for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will be in Friday’s edition.
RALEIGH — Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and his Republican rivals fought to a draw as the North Carolina legislature adjourned its longest annual session in nearly 20 years this month, still with no conventional state budget in place and many favored GOP items blocked.
It may take the November 2020 elections to break the stalemate in the closely divided, fast-growing state, which while leaning Republican this decade has shown some recent signs of shifting to the left.
“I don’t see any clear winners or losers from the 2019 legislative session,” said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem.
“Both sides,” Dinan said, “appear prepared to take their case to voters in the 2020 elections.”
“If you can’t change the rules of the game, then you need to change the players,” N.C. Senate Minority Whip Jay Chaudhuri, a Democrat, said in an interview,
The state budget standoff “absolutely means it will be a political issue going into a political year,” Chaudhuri added,
Democratic gains in 2018 narrowed the Republican Party’s seat advantages in both chambers of the General Assembly and increased Cooper’s leverage with his veto stamp.
That contrasts with the first half of his term, when GOP veto-proof majorities left Cooper largely unable to halt Republican actions, except through litigation.
“We vetoed 14 pieces of legislation, and none of them have been overridden,” Cooper told reporters last week, referring to the lack of a supermajority. “We’ve been able to stop some bad legislation.”
But Republicans contend that Cooper, who is up for reelection next year, along with all 170 legislative seats, has miscalculated by obstructing the state budget’s passage, and by vetoing a “born-alive” abortion prohibition and a mandate that the state’s sheriffs help federal immigration agents.
“He might have won a victory, but did he win the political war?” asked GOP state Rep. Jason Saine, a top House budget-writer, adding that Cooper now must own his veto record.
Cooper’s most consequential veto this year came in June, when he blocked the two-year state budget approved by Republicans. He was unhappy the bill lacked what he considered robust teacher raises and Medicaid expansion to hundreds of thousands of people through the 2010 federal health care law.
Republicans still skeptical of more federal intrusion into health care wouldn’t go for Medicaid expansion. The annual session, which traditionally ends in mid-July, went on another four months. Republicans tried to persuade enough Democrats to agree to the override, rather than sit around a negotiating table.
“The governor will not negotiate, except on the condition that any final product have Medicaid expansion,” N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Eden, said as the session closed Nov. 15. “That is not something that the votes exist for.”
Cooper said there was no “Medicaid-or-nothing” ultimatum.
Distrust between the parties went off the charts Sept 11 when House Republicans took advantage of a half-empty chamber to quickly approve the budget veto override. Cooper accused Republicans of pulling “their most deceptive stunt yet.” GOP House Speaker Tim Moore said the chamber’s rules were followed.
The move appeared to bolster Democrats in the Senate, which still had to vote to complete the override. Republicans only needed one of the 21 Senate Democrats to join them to succeed, but weeks went by and no vote was taken. Senate Republicans say they may try again when they return to work in mid-January, after candidate filing ends and Democrats without primary challengers could be wooed.
A state government shutdown wasn’t possible when the fiscal year began July 1 because laws already on the books prevented one. Legislators also decided to pass portions of their proposed budget in several pieces of legislation — such as pay raises for state employees and law enforcement officers — to allay criticism. Cooper signed nearly all of these “mini-budgets” into law.
The budget stalemate has some consequences. A yearslong effort to shift the state’s Medicaid program to managed care has been suspended indefinitely. And the lack of a broad teacher pay agreement gives political ammunition to the state’s largest teacher lobbying group, aligned with Cooper. Republicans counter that Cooper’s the one who has vetoed budget bills containing teacher raises three years in a row.
Saine argued the GOP still holds political advantage entering next year because of a strong state economy and jobs announcements that he attributes to Republican tax cuts and regulatory legislation. But Cooper also should benefit from the positive economy. Recent redistricting court rulings favoring Democrats also should make more districts competitive.
Caldwell Academy, a private Christian school on Horse Pen Creek Road in Greensboro, held its annual Thanksgiving in the Meadow on Tuesday at Camp Weaver. The fun-filled day for students and families included activities and such games as corn cob tossing and gaga ball (similar to dodge ball), and a lunch of Brunswick stew.
Find more photos at greensboro.com.
GREENSBORO — A proposed $2 billion master facilities plan for Guilford County Schools would touch on every school in the district, with major projects to rebuild Page and Southern high schools and create a new high school in the county’s ever growing northwest area.
It would also eliminate the district’s more than 500 mobile and temporary classrooms and consolidate most of nearly a dozen scattered administrative offices into one facility.
Work would be broken into phases — possibly two or three phases of five years each — spread out across 10 or 15 years.
The new proposal was created by Cooperative Strategies, the district’s new consultant, and endorsed by Superintendent Sharon Contreras. It has a larger price tag, a wider scope and some key distinctions from a prior proposal brought forward by former consultants on whose earlier work it is partly based.
School administrators shared the proposal Tuesday with a joint facilities committee that includes county commissioners and school board members. They expect to discuss plans to pay for the proposal at a meeting on Dec. 19.
David Sturtz, a partner with Cooperative Strategies, said the average school building in Guilford County dates to 1966, and that like a lot of school districts, Guilford County Schools is stuck with a glut of schools built in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s that are now in poor shape.
He said with better building standards, schools today are constructed on a quality level that’s more like the solid builds of the 1920s. But in the middle decades of the last century, he said, people built schools cheaply and quickly to educate the baby boomers. They also made some questionable design choices, especially in the 1970s.
Counties like Guilford have tried to keep up mid-decade schools, he said, but found themselves falling behind on renovations and replacements, and overwhelmed by the deterioration.
“Eventually those chickens come home to roost,” he said.
The proposal calls for rebuilding 22 schools on existing sites, including Page and Southern, two of the district’s large high schools.
Workers would build a new $86 million Page on the site of neighboring Cone Elementary, which would be demolished under the proposal. The existing Page would be torn down and that area turned into athletic fields.
Southern High would be rebuilt on its existing site for about $55 million.
The plan also calls for constructing seven new schools, including a new $71 million high school in the booming northwest area of the county to alleviate crowding at Northwest High School. The new high school would be an aviation magnet high school, with 800 seats for students from its attendance zone and another 400 for interested students from elsewhere in the county.
The plan works to balance out crowding and underutilization of schools in various areas of the county, as well as to satisfy demand for magnet programs.
Some schools would close, such as Murphey and Wiley elementary schools in Greensboro.
Others would combine, such as Southern Elementary and Sumner Elementary in the southern part of the county. And some schools would expand their age range, such as Jackson Middle School in Greensboro, which would become a K-8 magnet school.
The plan pulled together by Cooperative Strategies includes some elements not included in what MGT Consulting Group proposed in its $1.5 billion plan released in February.
For example, the new proposal includes safety, security and technology upgrades for all schools, even recently built ones. And it has a plan for overhauling the district’s network of administrative buildings, which MGT scored as unsatisfactory in many cases but did not include in its plans.
Under the new proposal the county would close, and potentially sell, 10 of the district’s 12 widespread administrative offices and instead combine them into a new $31 million school administration building on a new site.
The district would repair its English Road office in High Point and Washington Street Annex building in Greensboro. It would also scrap the existing transportation facility and build two new $13 million transportation and maintenance facilities, one in Greensboro and one in Jamestown or High Point.
After the presentation, school board member Anita Sharpe and county board of commissioners Vice Chairman Jeff Phillips had questions about previous spending by the county on school buildings.
Sharpe asked Sturtz if he’d considered how much money had been spent on each school in his proposals.
He said he had not based his judgments on what sums were spent where and when, although what was spent previously would likely be reflected in the condition of the building and the cost to replace versus renovate.
Phillips said he understood, but it could be difficult to think about replacing a school if it had received $20 million or $30 million in renovations in recent decades, even if the school was still in replacement-worthy condition despite the renovations.
“We are in a position to have to consider what we’ve done in the past,” he said.
Commissioners Chairman Alan Branson told Sturtz he worried taking on the debt needed for $2 billion in school construction and renovation would be a burden on the back of middle income families. Sturtz said the consultants’ financial adviser tells him the district has low total debt ratios per capita in comparison to other counties in North Carolina.
“There’s room to make significant investments without getting out of that top tier bracket in terms of fiscal conservatism in that way, fiscal responsibility,” he said.
After the meeting, school board Chairwoman Deena Hayes-Greene said she thinks the proposed master plan could be a financial benefit to taxpayers because the county and schools are taking a more systematic proactive approach than in past years. So if taxpayers are going to have shell out for school building needs anyway, they might as well be paying for good schools built to last and building strategies designed to meet educational needs.
She also said good schools help create a healthier local economy.
Contreras and her staff plan to continue working with consultants over the next few weeks to prioritize the recommended building and renovation projects and come back with a proposal for funding two or three phases of construction over the next 10 to 15 years. They expect to share that with the joint committee at 9 a.m. Dec. 19, at a location yet to be determined.
Chief Operations Officer Scott McCully said the school system plans to hold public presentations to share the details of the proposal in January. Those presentations could vary, he said, and perhaps include small group meetups or efforts over social media.
In February, they would hold public hearings to get feedback from the public.
They hope to hold a vote by the joint committee sometime in February, he said, on recommendations the committee would then share with the school board and county commissioners.