Since 2021, we've made unprecedented strides in supporting public education in Guilford County, increasing our annual funding allocation for schools by over $115 million, a remarkable 41% increase in just three years. We have invested funds to increase teacher and principal supplements and boost the salaries of classified staff, acknowledging the invaluable role they all play in our children's education. Our commitment to the wellbeing of children in schools is evident with 25 new school nurse positions, along with improved starting salaries to attract top talent and a continued commitment to achieving a 1:1 school/nurse ratio. Additionally, we were thrilled to invest in the GCS/Cone Health partnership with a $2.2 million ARPA investment for the innovative telehealth program in Title I schools, setting a new standard in school healthcare. We've also intentionally invested in a funding model to manage the debt service on the $2 billion bonds, ensuring a steady financial course without overburdening taxpayers.
However, there is more work to be done. Despite these strides, our educators and school support staff still face a disparity in compensation that doesn't fully reflect their important contribution to our community. The pandemic's impact on our students' education has been significant. GCS has implemented nationally recognized ARPA-funded programs to address learning loss and the looming depletion of these funds presents a new challenge. We must work on finding sustainable solutions to continue these crucial programs, ensuring that our students not only catch up but are able to reach their full potential.
Improving School Facilities
Our Board has been at the forefront of advocating for a transformative investment in our school facilities, and the community resoundingly answered the call. The approval of $2 billion in school bonds marks a historic commitment to our community's future. Already, these funds are fueling progress, with three brand new schools set to welcome students in Fall 2024, and three more in the 2024-25 academic year. This is just the beginning. The comprehensive master facilities plan is guiding the process as school projects are prioritized, addressing the most critical needs first. Additionally, $500 million of bond proceeds has been allocated for deferred maintenance across the district, addressing many long-standing facility concerns.
However, like many of us have experienced in your personal lives, shifts in the supply chain and labor market have impacted initial projections. The cost estimates from 2017 no longer mirror the current economic landscape. To effectively address these challenges, we have revitalized the Joint Facilities Committee, and I am privileged to contribute my efforts as a member. This collaboration between Guilford County and Guilford County Schools is critical as we navigate this historic investment. Our goal is clear: to ensure the highest and best use of every tax dollar, honoring our commitment to the community and securing a bright educational future for our children.
In the last few years, Guilford County has directed significant efforts towards improving healthcare services, emphasizing accessibility and addressing critical needs. We've deployed two mobile clinics offering a range of services from basic health assessments to chronic disease screenings and immunizations. In addressing infant mortality, a strategic priority identified by the Board, we've substantially increased support for Every Baby Guilford, a collective action movement centered around community collaboration and engagement, to ensure more babies are born healthy and live to celebrate their first birthday. We must continue to support this initiative and the bold goal to not only improve maternal and infant health outcomes but to eliminate racial disparities in these key health areas.
Addressing the scarcity of healthcare facilities, especially in underserved areas, continues to be a priority. I have been excited to participate in the Access to Healthcare work group which has been actively engaged in discussions with local healthcare providers to promote equitable placement of services. While Guilford County doesn’t provide comprehensive health care services, we must continue to work with the providers in our community to ensure equitable expansion of healthcare offerings.
The Guilford County Behavioral Health Urgent Care center, opened in June 2021, offers comprehensive services including therapy and substance abuse programs. Our ARPA allocations will further extend support to various crisis services, including Recovery Housing, the GC Stop program, and a new Family Justice Center/DSS Protective Services Team, demonstrating our commitment to a healthier, more supported Guilford County community. Despite continued investment and focus on behavioral health and substance abuse, the need still outweighs available services. It's imperative that we maintain our focus on this vital issue, collaborating with community partners to create effective solutions that meet the growing needs of Guilford County residents.
In recent years, Guilford County has been at the forefront of remarkable economic growth, marked by significant developments that have reshaped our community's landscape. The arrival of Toyota at the mega-site, bringing a multi-billion dollar investment and thousands of new jobs, is a monumental testament to our region's potential. Similarly, the addition of Boom Supersonic and Marshall Aerospace, alongside stalwarts like Honda Jet and Haeco at PTI, indicates that we are well on our way to becoming the center of aviation and aerospace innovation.
Our region's appeal for supply chain and logistics operations has been clearly demonstrated by major companies like Publix, Amazon, and Harris Teeter, choosing to set up distribution centers here. In many recent successes, Guilford County, in partnership with Greensboro and High Point, has played a pivotal role, actively attracting businesses that now consider our county a prime location for expansion.
To maintain this momentum and continue attracting new business, our commitment to education and infrastructure is crucial. The success of Guilford County Schools and GTCC is often a decisive factor for businesses scouting for new locations. Investing in workforce training programs, and supporting GTCC's innovative initiatives like advanced manufacturing and aviation, is vital for our future economic success. GTCC's collaboration with Toyota for their FAME program is a prime example of preparing our workforce for the opportunities ahead. Guilford County’s recent pledge to support GTCC's long-term vision of innovative education is a commitment we must uphold.
Furthermore, addressing the infrastructure needs of our community is essential for sustained growth. Throughout the ARPA process, numerous towns reached out to the County seeking support for the development of water and sewer infrastructure – critical for the expansion of housing and commercial growth. This kind of large-scale infrastructure development demands innovative solutions and a collaborative effort among local, regional, and state partners. We must stand ready to lead and support these transformative initiatives, ensuring our community not only grows but thrives in the years to come.
Early Childhood Education
As a board member of Ready for School, Ready for Life, I've gained invaluable insights into the critical importance of early childhood investments. A child’s experiences from birth to eight years will significantly impact their brain development and lay the foundation for all future learning. When children are safe and healthy and exposed to educational opportunities in the early years, they are set up for success in life. Guilford County’s efforts to combat infant mortality are a key component of supporting our youngest residents. Additionally, our Board invested ARPA funds to expand the Ready for School, Ready for Life Navigation program, connecting parents of young children with vital community resources. Supporting brain development in these formative years is crucial for achieving milestones like third-grade reading proficiency, high school graduation, and overall well-being, ultimately benefitting the entire community.
There is so much more work to do in this area; notably in affordable childcare options for our community. Of course, providing universal pre-K in North Carolina would be a huge step forward for children and families and we must continue to advocate for this at the state level. And, while state and federal funding provides childcare subsidies to some, the demand far outweighs the available resources, leaving hundreds of families on the waitlist. My vision for Guilford County involves engaging in conversations to leverage support from our business community, combined with public and non-profit partners, to create a balance in the childcare industry. This strategy has the potential to significantly reduce the burden on workers dependent on childcare, while simultaneously expanding the availability of options, empowering parents with more choices for this critical service. We all must recognize that prioritizing affordable and accessible childcare isn’t just a concern for families but for the entire community as our collective economic success depends on it.
Ensuring Key Service Delivery
In Guilford County, we understand that the smooth functioning of county services is vital for our community's success. Many of these services, ranging from tracking communicable diseases and vaccine administration to child support enforcement and fire safety inspections, are not just beneficial but mandated by state law. Alongside these, Guilford County chooses to invest time and resources in other critical services like the Family Justice Center, Every Baby Guilford, and Family Connects. Regardless of whether they are mandated, every service rendered by Guilford County staff plays a crucial role in fostering the success and well-being of our residents.
Like many in the private sector, Guilford County has faced challenges in attracting and retaining the skilled professionals needed to maintain our high standard of service delivery. For years, constrained funding led to vacancies, high turnover, and overburdened staff. Recognizing this, our Board took decisive action, implementing a comprehensive compensation plan to ensure Guilford County team members receive competitive market salaries. This move has significantly reduced vacancy rates and boosted morale, enabling us to enhance service levels in crucial areas like child protective services, Medicaid enrollment, and Emergency Services.
Furthermore, we've introduced forward-thinking initiatives such as the EMS Academy. This program recruits and pays candidates to train for hard-to-fill but essential roles. It's steps like these that not only alleviate current staffing challenges but also lay the groundwork for a more resilient and responsive county service system in the long term. We must continue to recognize and value the dedication of Guilford County employees. Their commitment to providing essential services is the backbone of our county's success, and they consistently perform their roles with exceptional skill and care.
Promoting Equity In our Community
Soon after I began my first term, our Board agreed that Equity and Inclusion is one of the values through which to center our collective work going forward. As a result, promoting equity is at the forefront of our mission, guided by an understanding of the systemic challenges residents face. We recognize the measurable disparities within our community, particularly affecting people of color, as highlighted by significant differences in life expectancy and infant mortality rates across zip codes in Guilford. Our response has been data-driven and community-focused. Initiatives like Every Baby Guilford exemplify our commitment to addressing these inequities. This "radically inclusive collective action movement" targets disparities in infant mortality, a stark indicator of broader societal inequities.
This initiative, along with our county-led discussions on healthcare deserts and efforts to engage and support local minority and women owned businesses are just a few examples of how our shared value to promote equity is being prioritized. We must continue to implement policies and initiatives like these and remain dedicated to our goal for a community in which everyone has an equitable opportunity to thrive.