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Johnson City school funding concerns remain unresolved

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Jan 6, 2020 at 8:38 PM

Discussions between county and city officials about how to solve Johnson City Schools’ capital project funding woes have continued, but not according to plan for the Johnson City Board of Education.

In August 2019, Jonesborough announced a proposal to fund a new K-8 school and sports complex estimated to cost about $32 million. The plan was then approved by the Washington County Board of Education before the Washington County Commission approved a lease agreement in October with the town to construct the school.

Tennessee law requires school districts within Washington County to share all county tax revenue for schools, which means Johnson City Schools should receive a share from Washington County capital bonds issued for school buildings. For the past few months, Johnson City school officials have been concerned there would be no bonds to share between the two districts under Jonesborough’s current K-8 school funding plan.

At last month’s board meeting on Dec. 9, Chairman Tim Belisle said Washington County proposed providing $500,000 per year to Johnson City for 20 years. In return, the county wanted Johnson City to agree not to sue the county over the funding of the Jonesborough school.

The county also proposed an agreement to not use the same mechanisms for funding its schools as it has for Jonesborough, essentially meaning the two districts could go back to splitting funds for projects. 

But at Monday’s monthly January meeting, Belisle said another recent county version of the agreement removed that last key prohibition against those funding mechanisms, according to his discussions with city officials. Board Member Jonathan Kinnick asked, “Why in the world would we agree to that?”

“To be honest, I don’t think any of us expected anything different,” Kinnick said, adding that city officials need to “do something about it.”

Concerns about the Jonesborough school plan have come amid Johnson City Schools’ recent reconfiguration plan, which plans to put fifth-graders back in elementary schools and create two middle schools for grades 6-8 out of Liberty Bell Middle School and Indian Trail Intermediate School.

This plan requires about $30 million in capital needs, much of which would be needed for a new Towne Acres Elementary School and space for Lake Ridge, Woodland and South Side Elementary schools.

In other business, Project Manager Randy Trivette told officials that work on the new Liberty Bell gym and cafeteria is still set to be completed by the end of June.

Thomas Weems Architects have completed conceptual designs outlining the scope of additions to Lake Ridge. Shaw and Shanks Architects have completed the schematic design of four classrooms at South Side, and BLS Thompson and Litton Architects are finalizing drawings for eight classrooms at Woodland. 

 

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