Johnson City Press: Leaders look to regroup on Jonesborough K-8 school

Leaders look to regroup on Jonesborough K-8 school

Robert Houk • May 26, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Washington County school and courthouse officials say it’s back to the drawing board for a plan to build a K-8 school in Jonesborough.

The county’s Board of Education is expected to discuss a new game plan at its regular meeting on June 6. Board Chairman Keith Ervin and other school officials were present Monday when the County Commission rejected Scheme 6, which called for renovating Jonesborough Middle School and adding about 64,000 square feet to the building.

“It was a pretty decisive vote,” county Schools Director Bill Flanary said of the commission’s action. “The commission has done its job. Now, it’s up to the nine members of the Board of Eduction to readdress the issue.”

He said a “plurality” of the board’s members will decide how the school district will now proceed with the Jonesborough school project.

“It’s a tough decision,” Flanary said Friday. “I’ve been around for a long time, and I can tell you that every time we build something, it has been stressful.”

Each Board Has A Role

Board members approved Scheme 6 in October following several years of debate and failed votes on previous schemes. Ervin and others pointed out during Monday’s debate that while it is up to the school board to decide the scope of the Jonesborough project, it’s the commission’s job to fund it.

Commissioners said they were against pursuing Scheme 6 without a clear plan for funding construction of the $20.7 million school. Both the county’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee and the Budget Committee declined to take a position on Scheme 6. 

Instead, commissioners were asked to debate a resolution noting a 7-cent property tax increase might be needed to fund borrowing at least $57 million for the Jonesborough K-8 and other key school capital projects. State law requires half that amount to be shared with Johnson City schools.

Commissioner Gary McAllister was one of the commissioners who suggested a joint task force of school board members and county commissioners be formed to reach a consensus on the Jonesborough project. McAllister said Thursday at the very least, better communication is needed between the two governing bodies.

“It is up to the school board to decide what direction they want to head, so I don’t want to step on their toes,” McAllister said. “I think we can work together to get this done.”

Commission Chairman Greg Matherly said it will be up to the Board of Education to decide how much input it wants from commissioners on the front end.

“We (county commissioners) are open to whatever the school board recommends, be it a task force or something else,” Matherly said.

A Broader Picture

Board of Education member Mitch Meredith said regardless of what he and his colleagues decide on the K-8 school, the board must move to “fix the problems” at the two existing Jonesborough schools. That includes problems with drinking water and the open classroom design at the elementary school.

Meredith, who also serves as the county’s director of finance and administration, said many of those issues were put on the back burner as the board struggled to reach a consensus on a scheme for the K-8 school.

He also believes the board needs to address the county’s decreasing student population, and how that should determine the school system’s capital and instructional needs in the future.

“The number of kids coming through the pipeline is dwindling,” he said. “Figures show student enrollments down statewide.”

Meredith said board members should look to “optimize our school capacity” in the coming fiscal years. He said from a county’s budget perspective, schools and other “stakeholders need to realize we are in a zero growth economy.”

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