As city, county negotiate school funding, Jonesborough watches from the sidelines

Jonathan Roberts • Mar 11, 2020 at 6:28 PM

As Johnson City leaders prepare to vote on a school funding deal with Washington County that would pave the way to build a new school in Jonesborough, parents of children in Washington County Schools are hoping to see the city accept the deal and keep the school plan on track. 

“In a perfect world, all of the kids in our area would have ideal learning conditions and all of the schools would be funded equally but they’re not,” said Kelli Spain, who has two children in county schools. “For Jonesborough kids’ sake and city kids’ sake, I just hope they come to a fast agreement and everybody can move forward with what needs to be done.” 

Under the deal, Jonesborough and the county would enter into a $32.5 million lease-to-purchase agreement to build a new K-8 school and accompanying sports complex. Tennessee law requires counties with city and county school districts to share bond proceeds issued for county school projects but, under the proposed funding mechanism, Johnson City Schools would not be entitled to any of those funds.  

Johnson City and Washington County, however, worked out a deal that would see the county allocate $500,000 to the city annually over a 25-year period. The deal has yet to be approved by the City Commission, which will vote on the deal at a special called meeting Thursday. 

“We can work out this agreement, and we get $12.5 million,” City Manager Pete Peterson told the commission last week. “We can decline this agreement and/or sue the county, and we’ll get zero.”

Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest said he’s not concerned about the plan potentially being delayed by legal action, and he expects the commission will approve the deal.  

“I think they’ll follow that advice Thursday, which would be good for all of Johnson City and our county,” Vest said. “This is the best outcome for the parents there in Johnson City, and it’s the best outcome for the taxpayers in Washington County.” 

Kerrie Aistrop, another parent with children in county schools and a strong advocate for the Jonesborough school plan, said she hopes to see the deal approved, and that “stopping Jonesborough from getting a school does not help” the city fix its schools. 

“If they don’t accept the deal and they sue and they lose, then they get nothing,” Aistrop said. “If they don’t accept the deal and they sue and they win, then all our taxes are going up.” 

School Design Committee member Laura Cusick, who also has kids in the county school system, said she would “hate to see this turn into a city versus county” issue, and that she hopes it doesn’t come to a lawsuit.

“It breaks my heart to see that,” Cusick said. “All of our students deserve safe, healthy schools and I just feel it’s time our educational leaders get their acts in gear and figure out how to do this for all of our kids.” 

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