Johnson City will hold closed, 'educational' meeting on implications of school funding lawsuit

David Floyd • Mar 1, 2020 at 7:46 PM

Prompted by calls for litigation from some school officials, who have sharply criticized a $12.5 million school funding deal with Washington County, Johnson City leaders will hold a closed door meeting in the coming days to learn about the consequences of filing a lawsuit.

City Manager Pete Peterson said Friday that the meeting will serve as an educational opportunity for city officials and that no decision has been made or will be made during the meeting about legal action.

“The City Commission would like to set up an executive session with the appropriate attorneys and the school board so they can have the opportunity to learn about the legal implications and the advantages and disadvantages should a decision be made to proceed with litigation,” Peterson said.

Peterson said officials will then have a public discussion about their options and thoughts at an upcoming commission meeting.

After months of negotiation, the Washington County Commission approved a $12.5 million school funding deal with Johnson City this month designed to help the city system meet its school funding needs, an agreement that members of the Johnson City Board of Education expressed opposition to at a special called meeting last Wednesday.

The $12.5 million would be paid to the city in annual $500,000 installments over a 25-year period. If Johnson City approves the agreement, the deal would prohibit the city from pursuing legal action.

According to prior Press reporting, the agreement is tied to a lease-purchase deal county commissioners signed with the town of Jonesborough to construct new $32.75 million K-8 county school and sports complex, a funding mechanism that does not guarantee the city money that would typically be shared if the county issued bonds for the project.

The City Commission had been expected to vote on the agreement during its regular meeting on Thursday, but Peterson said commissioners won’t discuss the deal at either their agenda review meeting on Monday or their scheduled meeting on Thursday.

School board members and city commissioners will meet in executive session, which Peterson said is limited to fact-finding and educational purposes and won’t involve any deliberation or decisions about a lawsuit.

Along with the members of the two boards, Peterson said Johnson City Attorney Sunny Sandos, School Board Attorney Lee Patterson and a lawyer from Knoxville firm Bass, Berry & Sims, which has consulted with the city in the past on other issues, will be present.

“This is a very big decision to make as to how we move forward,” Peterson said, “and we want to make sure all the elected officials are fully educated, informed and have an opportunity to ask all their questions concerning the legal aspects of this decision.”

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