New Washington County School Board takes on classroom sizes, director's position in first meeting

Jessica Fuller • Sep 6, 2018 at 11:37 PM

A new Washington County Board of Education made its debut Thursday night, and along with a shuffle in personnel came new ideas from new board members.

With a unanimous vote, Keith Ervin was chosen the board’s new chairman, and new members Chad Fleenor, Jason Day and Mitch Meredith sat in on their first meeting as Washington County Board of Education members.

Controlling crowded classrooms 

At his first meeting, Fleenor said in his roundtable discussion that he wanted to do something about overcrowded classrooms within Washington County.

Through data he said he obtained through Interim Director Bill Flanary, Fleenor said seven county classrooms had more than 28 students in them. While that is still below the state limit of 30 students per classroom, Fleenor said he wanted to do something to trim those numbers.

One idea he proposed to the board was to take the six of the current 11 academic instructional coaches that aren’t federally funded within the county and give them classrooms to alleviate the stress, but Flanary was quick to point out a problem with that.

While the board is able to create or abolish positions, Flanary said, it can’t transfer positions, so the affected coaches would be unemployed by Fleenor’s idea until Flanary put them in classrooms.

“I can’t guarantee that these people have the qualifications,” Flanary said. “I don’t want anyone to not have a paycheck.”

After a discussion, Fleenor made a motion to fill seven positions and take the funding for that out of the fund balance, an estimated $500,000 expense. Finance director Brad Hale interjected that he wouldn’t be comfortable pulling that much money out of the fund balance, and added that the County Commission would still have to approve pulling the money from the fund balance.

Board member Todd Ganger pointed out that the recurring expense of hiring new teachers would be burdened on next year’s budget. The motion, seconded by David Hammond, failed in a 6-3 vote with Fleenor, Hammond and Annette Buchanan voting in favor of it. 

Flanary said it would be possible to adopt board policy for a lower class size cap moving forward.

The future of the Director of Schools?

Per the board’s policy, the board is unable to begin its search for a replacement director of schools until 30 days after an election. That time has passed, but the board is still required to advertise the position for at least 15 days before selecting a director.

Ganger reminded board members of a contract with the Tennessee School Board’s Association that would allow the association to command the search for a director for free in a six-to-eight-month search. The motion failed in a 6-3 vote with Ganger, Mitch Meredith and Day voting in favor of it.

Still no answers for Jonesborough K-8

Kerrie Aistrop, a Jonesborough community member and school board candidate who lost the race in the past school board election, brought her ongoing concerns about the Jonesborough K-8 school project.

She expressed her frustrations at the school board for failing to select “Scheme 6” at the August meeting, a plan she said she felt was a great compromise between community members, the board and the county commission.

“I felt it was a huge negotiation — we got new lockers, we got a new gym — everything that the Jonesborough community asked for,” Aistrop said during her public comments. “Two minor problems with it, and we still can’t come to a decision.”

The board didn’t take any formal action on the Jonesboroough K-8 project on Thursday night, but Ervin said the issue will be brought forth in an upcoming called meeting.

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