More than a half-dozen cars honked their horns, creating an echo that resonated through the wooded neighborhood next to Joyner Elementary in Greensboro on Tuesday afternoon.

Parents, teachers and advocates drove out to attend a car caravan at the school to support the full $1.6 billion funding requested by the Guilford County School Board in preparation for the county commission meeting on May 21.

Members of a grassroots community group led the charge in front of the school, which had been decorated with signs that read: “We love our Joyner students, and they deserve better,” and, “We love our school.”

“If your student attends a school with mobile units, honk your horn!” shouted Brooks Global teacher Kenya Donaldson. “If your student attends a school with mold, honk your horn!”

Parent Isabell Moore spoke to cars who gathered at Joyner Elementary School from on top of a picnic table on Tuesday. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

The organizers of the event, which started at Joyner, aimed to tour a number of schools that would be affected if a $1.6 billion bond is included on the Guilford County ballot in November. In addition to Joyner, the group drove to Grimsley High School, Kiser Middle School, Brooks Global School, Peck Elementary and Southeast Guilford Middle School, stopping at each location to talk about the problems that ailed each location.

At Joyner, a few teachers and the principal stood outside, as cars drove around the circular driveway.

Cath Old, the school’s physical education teacher, asked one of her students who attended the rally what PE looked like for them.

“Do you have a gym?” she asked Amani Cassell, a third-grader at Joyner.

“Yeah, well no,” he said. “We have a trailer.”

In addition to lacking proper exercise space, Cassell said that this past year one of his teachers had to buy three fans for their classroom because the air-conditioning unit had broken. One of the fans broke soon after the teacher brought it in. Amani’s brother, Riley, who attends Mendenhall Middle School and is in seventh grade, said that in a similar situation at his school, a classmate passed out during band practice from heat exhaustion after the air-conditioning went out at his school.

“The last time our school was updated was in the 1970s, when they added retrofitted A/C,” said Denise Ebbs, Joyner’s principal, at the event. “We love our school, but we need an upgrade. It’s time.”

From left to right: Joyner principal Denise Ebbs, fourth grade teacher Jessica Rhodes and PE teacher Cath Old. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

Both Joyner and Mendenhall are included on a list of schools (link below) that would be fixed during the first phase of repairs if the full $1.6 billion is approved by the county commissioners and then passed by voters as a bond referendum in November. A facilities study conducted by an independent contractor in 2019 found that Guilford County Schools had a $2 billion need to fix or rebuild all necessary facilities but the most funding that has been considered is $1.6 billion.

Skip Alston, county commissioner for District 8, has repeatedly stated that he supports the ask for $1.6 billion for school funding but said that many of his colleagues, especially Republicans, on the board do not.

“You’ve got five Republicans on the board and they stick together,” he said. “I’ve heard everything from $300 million to $500 million to seven and 800 million.”

Jeff Phillips, a Republican and the chair of the county commission, told Triad City Beat previously that he supports a $700 million bond amount. Other Republican county commissioners could not be reached in time for publication.

According to the school board’s report from earlier this year, if the $1.6 billion bond referendum is passed by voters, there will be three new schools built, 38 rebuilt or fully renovated and two repaired. The prioritization list shows Joyner is set to be rebuilt while Mendenhall will be repaired. All of the schools that would be affected during the first phase received unsatisfactory scores in the independent study.

Joyner is amongst dozens of schools which got unsatisfactory scores in an independent study of all of the county’s schools. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

Community activists recently put together a petition calling for the commissioners to approve the $1.6 billion amount. As of Tuesday morning, the petition had garnered close to 600 signatures.

The next step in the process is for the county commissioners to vote to decide the maximum amount for the bond. According to Alston, the board will vote on the maximum amount during their next meeting on May 21. Then, the board must schedule a public hearing to receive input from the community and afterwards, they will vote on a final amount to go on the November ballot. During a phone call on Tuesday, Alston said that the public meeting and the final vote will likely take place on June 18.

Many parents, teachers and students say they want the full $1.6 billion and nothing less.

“We find ways around it because that’s what you do,” said Old, who has worked at Joyner for a decade. “It’s not necessarily Guilford County Schools’ fault. It’s a great place, but they don’t have the funding they need to fix things. I can cope around these things, but the kids shouldn’t have to.”

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