Jonesborough officials to speak on school issue

Robert Houk • Aug 4, 2019 at 6:40 PM

Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest says the town wants to add its “voice” to the Jonesborough K-8 debate.

Vest and members of the town’s governing board will join Washington County commissioners and members of the county’s Board of Education at a workshop on Aug. 15 to discuss the future of the Jonesborough elementary and middle schools. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the town’s McKinney Center.

“Certainly, we in Jonesborough have a vested interest to see that we have schools that serve our citizens,” Vest said last week. “We want to be a third voice to help facilitate a solution.”

The fate of the Jonesborough schools have been in limbo since county commissioners voted unanimously in May to reject the so-called “Scheme 6” plan for a Jonesborough K-8 school, which had been endorsed by the Board of Education. That plan called for renovating Jonesborough Middle School and adding about 64,000 square feet to the building.

Board members approved Scheme 6 in October following nearly three years of debate and failed votes on previous plans.

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

Vest said he would be making a presentation on the school issue to commissioners and school board members at the workshop. The mayor said the Jonesborough schools represent “an economic benefit to the entire community.”

He said that while he believes the “hearts of school board members and county commissioners are in the right place,” the town might be able to help end the impasse. Vest said he would have more details of what the town is proposing “as we get closer to the date of the workshop.”

Commission Chairman Greg Matherly said he welcomes any help town officials can provide in resolving the Jonesborough school issue. 

“Anything they can do to help bring a plan to the County Commission is a good idea,” Matherly said. “We’ve got to remember, though, the role of the commission is that of the funding body. The plan for the school and its details are up to the Board of Education.”

He said the commission has been told by Mitch Meredith, the Washington County’s director of finance and administration, that the county has $10 million available in its capital projects fund for renovations to the Jonesborough schools. Matherly said those funds were so earmarked more than three years ago when the Board of Education voted to build the new pre-K-8 Boones Creek school and allocate funds for improvements to Jonesborough classrooms.

He said that was the understanding when county commissioners approved a 40-cent property tax increase to found the capital projects plan.

Later came talk by school officials of creating a magnet school in Jonesborough, which was followed by calls to “tear down the round” elementary school and a push for construction of a new K-8 school. Matherly said he and his colleagues now would like to see a “clear plan” for the Jonesborough schools come from the school board, be it for renovations or new construction.

Meredith, who is a member of the Board of Education, said he and his colleagues have yet to make that determination. He said some board members would like to see renovations made to the Jonesborough schools “sooner, rather than later,” while others support new construction.

As for the joint workshop on Aug. 15, Meredith said he doesn’t know what town officials will be proposing to resolve the issue.

“If the town of Jonesborough wants to step up and help us to improve the educational outcomes of students in Washington County, I certainly want to listen,” he said.