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Voters will remember the Jonesborough school debacle in August

Johnson City Press • Jun 10, 2018 at 8:30 AM

At this rate, next fall’s kindergartners will be graduating from high school before Jonesborough has better school facilities.

It’s clear at least that the question will not be resolved before the August general election, when voters will choose Washington County Board of Education members and finalize their choices for County Commission seats and the county’s new mayor.

Proposal after proposal has either failed to win enough votes at the school board level or crashed into a brick wall of commissioners at the committee level.

The latest swing and a miss came at Thursday’s school board meeting, when Todd Ganger tried again to push through “Scheme 3” — renovating and adding to the old Jonesborough High School now used as a middle school. As Press Staff Writer Jessica Fuller reported in Friday’s edition, the motion failed in the same 5-4 vote it did last month, with a coalition of like-minded board members voting against it, leaving the board in the same stalemate it’s been in for months.

What followed was a series of motions that reminded us of a street magician’s shell game. Finally, the board agreed to ask architect Tony Street to go back to his drawing board for the umpteenth time to rework “Scheme 2A,” the trimmed-down version of the plan that would give students a brand new school.

Remember that brick wall? Scheme 2A struck it squarely this spring.

While Street agreed to try again, he warned board members that it would be hard to give them what they want within the $20.8 million budget limit set by the County Commission. In other words, they’d be right back where they started.

The mess dates back two years to when both the school board and the commission agreed on a plan that would have renovated and expanded the existing elementary building. But some Board of Education members and Jonesborough parents were unsatisfied with keeping the original spaceship-shaped portion of the school, hence the ongoing debate.

Now comes news that county officials are wondering whether to even bother purchasing land behind the two Jonesborough schools for whatever project results. As Senior Reporter Robert Houk reported in Saturday’s edition, the county was given a 90-day extension in March to act on the 15-acre purchase.

But given the board’s stalemate, County Mayor Dan Eldridge is asking whether the county should just let the option expire. Since he’s not running for re-election, Eldridge likely will be long gone before the school board and the commission can come to terms on a Jonesborough plan.

As we said in February and again in May, both commissioners and school board members need to get off their high horses and develop a reasonable compromise before the project loses any ground in estimated costs. Losing the land would be one more misstep.

No one should be optimistic that anything will be resolved before the election, and you can easily guess what will be issue No. 1 in the minds of voters.

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