Johnson City school board talks funding, capital projects

Brandon Paykamian • Feb 4, 2020 at 9:04 AM

Local education officials discussed a couple of key state and local funding concerns and construction updates at Monday’s monthly Johnson City Board of Education meeting.

In August, Jonesborough officials announced plans to build a new K-8 school and sports complex estimated to cost about $32 million. After the proposal was approved by the Washington County Board of Education, the Washington County Commission approved a lease agreement with the town to fund the project.

While Tennessee law requires school districts within Washington County to share all county tax revenue for schools, there would be no bonds to share between the two districts under Jonesborough’s current K-8 school funding plan.

On Dec. 9, Johnson City Board of Education Chairman Tim Belisle said Washington County proposed providing $500,000 per year to Johnson City for 25 years. In return, the county wanted the city to agree not to sue the county over the Jonesborough plan.

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

In January, Belisle said another revision of the agreement from the county removed that last key prohibition against those funding mechanisms, according to his discussions with city officials.

“The next Washington County Commission February meeting is when we should expect to see some movement on that with the city and the county for the agreement that they talked about,” Superintendent Steve Barnett said at Monday’s monthly February meeting.

Belisle said that, to his knowledge, the city hasn’t taken formal action to approve the deal. Board Member Jonathan Kinnick said he hopes the city does not take the deal discussed in January.

The city district is looking at needs of its own amid these funding concerns. Johnson City Schools’ recent reconfiguration plan to create two new middle schools out of Liberty Bell Middle School and Indian Trail Intermediate School for grades 6-8 will require about $30 million in needs when fifth-graders go back to elementary facilities. 

In other business, Johnson City Education Association President Joe Crabtree invited members of the board and community to attend the “Rally For Our Schools” in Nashville on March 16.

Demonstrators will rally for increased state funding in Tennessee’s public schools and “an end to the state’s punitive high-stakes testing system,” according to the Tennessee Education Association website.

Crabtree said Tennessee ranks 45th in per-pupil spending. Without increased funding, Crabtree said schools cannot adequately continue a variety of student services and offer competitive pay for teachers.

“Anyone who has a stake in public education, we are inviting to this rally,” Crabtree said, adding that more information on the rally can be found at www.teateachers.org

Project Manager Randy Trivette also discussed building project updates with board officials. Trivette said projects associated with the new reconfiguration plan are moving ahead.

Thomas Weems Architects are finishing the design drawings for the new storage space and alterations to create science labs in existing space at Indian Trail.

Architects are moving forward with design drawings for alterations to Lake Ridge, South Side and Woodland Elementary schools. The target goal is to have the design and bidding process completed to begin construction by June or August of 2020. Each project would take about 12 to 16 months to complete and would likely be ready for use by fall 2022.

The masonry work for the Liberty Bell cafeteria and gym is about 90% complete. Work is still on schedule and expected to be completed by the end of June 2020. 

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