Johnson City teachers' union opposes school funding deal

Brandon Paykamian • Mar 4, 2020 at 8:00 AM

The Johnson City Education Association has called out a proposed school funding deal between the city and Washington County, saying it “fails to provide appropriate funding.”

A Tuesday statement from the association expressed opposition to the plan.

Washington County commissioners voted last week to approve the deal, which would allocate $12.5 million over 25 years for Johnson City’s school facility needs.

At a called meeting last Wednesday, Johnson City Board of Education Chairman Tim Belisle said the city district “will wind up receiving significantly less than they are entitled to” if city commissioners accept the deal.

Johnson City Education Association President Joe Crabtree said the city should reject the deal because of the city schools’ current capital needs, which stand at roughly $30 million. Crabtree said he wants the city to “turn down this deal and send it back for renegotiation.”

The board and union believe the deal — set to be discussed among city officials Thursday — falls short of what’s needed for the system’s five-year plan to build additions to Lake Ridge Elementary, South Side Elementary, Woodland Elementary and a new, modernized Towne Acres Elementary School.

City education officials say these projects are necessary as part of the district’s middle school reconfiguration plan, which will create the need for more space as fifth graders are sent back to elementary schools and two middle schools for grades 6-through-8 are established at Indian Trail Intermediate School and Liberty Bell Middle School.

Crabtree said the amount offered in the deal could help fund alterations at some schools, but it would be insufficient for the construction of a new Towne Acres campus.

“To build a new elementary school at Towne Acres is about $23 million — $23 to 25 million,” Crabtree said.

“It’s impossible to do that with that kind of funding at that kind of pace. That’s a problem.”

Crabtree said the proposed deal has created an unnecessary “wedge” between the county and city. He said he agrees that Jonesborough needs a new K-8 school and supported that initiative.

“One of the saddest parts of this funding issue is that it has put teachers and families in Washington County at odds with those in Johnson City. The Washington County Commission is not living up to its promise of caring for ALL students within the county, which includes the 48% student population in Johnson City,” he wrote in his statement.

State law dictates sharing county expenses for school capital project loans and recurring education funding equally between both school districts in Washington County, but city education officials have said for months there would be no funds to share under Jonesborough’s current funding plan to use a lease agreement for a new $32 million K-8 school and sports complex.

That funding mechanism has been repeatedly condemned as a tax “loophole” by city education officials, and Johnson City school board members have expressed a desire to sue the county over the plan. Crabtree called it a “run around the law.” 

At last week’s special meeting, Board Member Jonathan Kinnick proposed a failed resolution formally urging Johnson City commissioners to refuse the deal and pursue legal action, which would be prohibited under the terms of the inter-local agreement.

“Who is to say that won’t tie their hands for future happenings that occur?” Crabtree said about the stipulation against legal action. “I don’t know what that looks like exactly.”

At Wednesday’s called meeting and Monday’s monthly board meeting, Belisle said the city district will wait to see what decision the city makes after the district makes its case against the deal.

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