“It’s good for our community,” Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest said. “You have votes on our board that are immediate and will take effect that year or five years down the road, but a project like this is going to leave a lasting impression for 30 or 40 years so it’s humbling but also what we’re elected to do.”
In November, representatives of Jonesborough, Washington County and the county school board got together to officially sign the contracts for the inter-local, lease-to-purchase deal that will see the town of Jonesborough build a $32.75 million school, which the county will own after a 38-year lease.
“This is hugely exciting,” Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said. “It’s one of the best days ever in Jonesborough.”
Washington County Schools Director Bill Flannary called the event “special” and said the school is something the community “can be proud of for decades.”
“Everybody that was in a position of leadership said ‘we’re not going to let the naysayers beat us,’” Flannery said. “I felt very confident early on that this was going to be a reality early on.”
There is, however, still a lot of work to be done.
“The work is just getting ready to start,” Grandy said. “We’ve got a whole school to design and bring into budget, so the heavy lifting now begins.”
And while the project still faces challenges, including questions about the legality of the agreement which could come to a head as the Johnson City Board of Education looks for ways to handle its own financial woes.
At a December meeting, Johnson City Schools Director Tim Belisle said Washington County had proposed giving the school system $500,000 per year for 20 years, and an agreement to not use a similar funding mechanism to fund county school projects in the future if the city agreed to not sue the county over the Jonesborough school agreement.
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 the Johnson City school board’s most recent meeting last week, board member Jonathan Kinnick took umbrage at the county’s removal of the agreement to not use that funding mechanism for future projects in the most recent version of the agreement.
“Why in the world would we do that?” Kinnick asked, adding that city officials need to “do something about” the plan.
Wednesday though, was a moment for town and county officials to reflect on how far they’ve come, and share their successes with a community that’s been behind them every step of the way.
“Honestly, people love Jonesborough and they have high expectations for the board and we work hard to try and uphold them,” Vest said.
Johnson City Press Staff Writer Brandon Paykamian contributed to this report.