Council’s delay of funds transfer criticized by board

John Thompson • Dec 17, 2013 at 9:42 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Elizabethton City School Board Chairwoman Rita Booher criticized the City Council on Tuesday night for postponing the transfer of $5 million to the school system so work can begin on the construction of a sports complex and music room at Elizabethton High School.

The school board was holding its first meeting since the City Council voted 6-1 on Thursday to defer the transfer of the funds raised in the bond issue for school capital projects.

Booher said she and Superintendent Ed Alexander attended the council meeting and were “surprised to find that the council had determined to defer the vote ... after several days of trying to understand what they hope to accomplish by a delay, I am still at a loss.”

Council members said they wanted to hold a workshop session to discuss the school board’s proposal, which does not include a third project, a classroom addition at T.A. Dugger Junior High, that the school board had originally included as one of the three top priorities. Alexander explained at the meeting that the final amount of the bond issue — $5 million — did not make it possible to do all three projects and T.A. Dugger could not be the first project because the home stands at Brown-Childress Stadium must come down to make room for the junior high project.

Booher said “we have always maintained that we have to move the stadium first. The insistence that we have somehow misled them is very confusing and, to be honest, a little insulting.”

Booher said Tuesday night that the decisions made during the board meetings and workshops had been reported in local newspapers and each council member was given a packet of the Capital Projects Committee’s recent deliberations, which included an analysis that it would cost $3 million to renovate Brown-Childress so that it meets current codes.

Booher said the school board has been a good steward with the proceeds from the half-cent increase in the local option sales tax that has been dedicated to school capital projects.

She said the sales tax has enabled the school board to finance two bond issues with a total value of $11.7 million. She said with that money, the school system has built 21 classrooms, “so, obviously, we care about building classrooms.” She said the money also enabled the building of two new gymnasiums for East Side and West Side elementary schools; a stadium, two new roofs, new windows, a secure entrance for Elizabethton High School; softball and baseball fields at T.Å. Dugger, an elevator, six bathrooms, four office spaces, remodeled cafeterias at two elementary schools; and a computer lab.

“We appreciate all the council does for our city, but I would ask that they trust us as the elected school board (which voted 4-1 to accept the committee’s recommendation to construct the stadium and build the music room at EHS) and to trust our experienced superintendent and the Central Office staff to continue to make the best decisions for our school system. We have spent years working on these projects and we know this is the best route for us to take given the amount of money that was secured for us.”

Booher also thanked Councilman Richard Tester for his strong support of the school board’s decision.

In other matters, the board approved a resolution supporting legislation to allow school buses to be used for more for 17 years if the buses can pass safety inspections. Alexander said unlike surrounding county school systems, Elilzabethton has shorter bus routes, with the maximum being 18 miles and the rest averaging 6 to 12 miles. He said the buses are well maintained and have good drivers.

The resolution passed unanimously. It calls for the legislature to eliminate the mandatory retirement of buses or at least increase the caps “to enable districts to run them as long as they are safe and passing inspections conducted by the Department of Safety.”

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