With the city already juggling a multitude of capital projects on its own, City Manager Pete Peterson asked school board members if they would be willing to fund some of the capital project requests using their own fund balance.
The list of capital requests include: $800,000 for renovations to the Liberty Bell cafeteria and gym; $100,000 for replacing the old gym floor at Science Hill; $200,000 to replace the bleachers in Science Hill’s old gym; $100,000 to replace the gym floor at Topper Academy; and $55,000 for a 25-passenger activity bus.
Peterson said the city has already allocated $500,000 toward the Liberty Bell renovations, but asked if the school board would consider either postponing or using their own fund balance to finance the two gym floor replacements, new bleachers and activity bus.
School board member Richard Manahan didn’t seem too receptive to the idea of using the system’s fund balance, arguing that even though the school system has a $6 million balance, board members are hoping to build the fund balance up to $13 million.
“Anytime you get into the fund balance, it gets a little sensitive,” Manahan said.
Director of Schools Dr. Steve Barnett said the board will meet again next week and review some of its capital requests to see what can be done.
“If the city is unable to fund those then we’ll have to look at a couple of things. We’ll have to look at our whole overall budget, and just decide, the board will have to decide what is a priority,” Barnett said.
“As I said, I think the board is already committed to the (Liberty Bell) gym and cafeteria. Bids for that will hopefully go out by the end of this month.”
For years, Liberty Bell students have relied on walking outside to use Freedom Hall Civic Center’s gymnasium and cafeteria, but Barnett said that will no longer be the case once this project is completed.
“When that’s completed, the entire Liberty Bell complex will be under one, continuous roof. So it wouldn’t be any reason to go outside unless you’re going to a playground,” he said.
In relation to safety requests, the school system is asking $100,000 for two additional school resource officers for Science Hill; $100,000 for school resource officers at Lake Ridge Elementary and South Side Elementary and $40,000 for a special mental health counselor through a contract with Frontier Health.
Adding school resource officers to Lake Ridge and South Side would put an officer inside every city elementary school. Currently, those two elementary schools share a school resource officer with two other elementary schools.
The school system is also planning to install “panic buttons” for each school, at a cost of about $300 each. The button would provide a direct link to 911 in case of an emergency, and higher-priced buttons, at a cost of about $650, can also lock all the doors while notifying authorities.
The school board is also hoping to pass a 3 percent salary increase at a cost of $1.5 million, in addition to providing $574,000 for step increases for certain teachers and staff.
Also in 2019, Johnson City Schools plans to offer a new concentration to students that deals with computer science and coding, in addition to five new advanced placement courses, using existing staff. The school system is also looking to add a virtual reality component to enhance its welding, automotive technology and health science courses.
City commissioners plan to meet again with the school board on May 21 at 5:30 p.m. to continue 2019 budget discussions.