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County schools discuss best use for leftover bond money

Nathan Baker • May 20, 2014 at 9:46 PM

Members of the Washington County Board of Education wrangled Tuesday evening with allocating half of the remaining capital outlay bond borrowed last year through a deal with the County Commission.

Since receiving the proceeds from the $2.6 million bond sale, which the school district will pay back with $250,000 the state sends annually to be used for debt service, the board has designated $1.3 million for various projects at the district’s schools.

But in June, shortly before receiving the funds, the board identified $2.8 million – the amount the district originally expected – in priority projects that needed addressing.

According to Director of Schools Ron Dykes, some of the projects originally identified that have now been undertaken have cost more than the estimated price and some will cost less.

Projects to carpet Boones Creek and Jonesborough elementary schools were originally estimated to cost $100,000, but will end up costing the district $341,817.

The board has also obligated some of the bond proceeds for projects not included in the priority list, like new scoreboards at the district’s two high schools, estimated to cost $35,000 each.

Dykes said part of the problem with using the capital outlay bond funds for one-time construction needs is that the money will eventually run out, and the district could be left with emergency needs it can’t cover with its ever-shrinking reserve funds.

“Normally, over the years, historically, up until about 7 years ago, we’ve had an adequate fund balance to help us with these issues, but sadly, we’ve been forced to obligate anywhere between $1 million and $2 million annually, which has dwindled that fund balance down to approximately $ 1 million,” the director said. “It’s through no fault of our own, it’s just an issue, with inflationary factors and our costs, and the fact that we’ve had to use that fund balance to balance our budget every single year.”

Board member Todd Ganger questioned the County Commission’s yearly reinforcement of its own fund balance while encouraging the district to dip into its own, saying the practice could set the school system up for financial dangers.

“They’re bragging about having theirs up really high and in that process, they’ve dwindled ours to be minimal,” he said. “They have raised theirs, and ours is getting to the point that it’s almost non-existent.”

Jack Leonard, another Board of Education member, said he didn’t feel like the county’s governing board was living up to promises it made the schools during the last budget season.

“We were promised when we used our fund balance to balance our budget, that they would take care of any emergencies,” he said. “They should have paid for the sink hole, that was an emergency, and I just think we need to hold them to what they promised us.”

In the budget sent to the County Commission this month for approval, the system included thousands of dollars to resurface the running tracks at David Crockett and Daniel Boone high schools and have stressed the importance of beginning site selection for a new K-8 schools in Boones Creek and Jonesborough to avoid possible annexation by Johnson City and to replace aging facilities.

Board member Keith Ervin questioned if whether money designated to replace carpets and roofs on the current schools in those areas might be put to better use if new buildings were in the cards.

“If we’re going to spend $341,000 to put carpet down, how much longer is it going to be before we have to do something about the roof?” he asked. “We have $1.3 million left, and I’m sitting here looking at $686,000 for a roof at Boones Creek and Jonesborough’s at $712,000. There’s our $1.3 million gone. We have to decide if we want to shoot for a new school or fix the one we’ve got.”

Upon a motion from board member Clarence Mabe, the board voted 7-2 to earmark $103,500 to each high school for athletic facilities needs, leaving more than $1.1 million from the bond proceeds.

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