Johnson City school board calls for equity between city and county capital spending

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Aug 27, 2019 at 9:14 AM

Members of the Johnson City Board of Education discussed concerns about the district’s capital needs at Monday’s board meeting, addressing equity between the county and city school districts.

After Jonesborough recently unveiled a proposal to fund a $28 million K-8 school and recreational complex in the town, Johnson City school officials have had some concerns leading up to Monday’s meeting about how the plan will affect capital projects needed to reconfigure Indian Trail Intermediate School and Liberty Bell Middle School into two new middle schools.

The original reconfiguration plan hoped to house grades 5 through 8 in those schools, but on Monday, the district approved a new configuration plan for grades 6 through 8 due to concerns about consistent district enrollment growth that could lead to overcrowding in those two schools under the original plan.

This new plan will place fifth-graders back into elementary schools, meaning new facilities at Towne Acres Elementary School and renovations to Lake Ridge, Woodland and South Side Elementary schools would be needed. All of this would contribute to about $30 million in capital needs. 

“We have some definite needs in the elementary schools to expand our capacity for students,” Superintendent Steve Barnett said.

According to state law, districts within the county share all county tax revenue devoted to schools, meaning Johnson City should receive a share from any Washington County capital bonds issued for school buildings. However, if Jonesborough uses its own funding to build a school, there would be no bonds to share for those capital needs.

In general, city school officials have been concerned about equitable funding for capital projects in both the county and city school districts after a 40-cent property tax increase for all county residents passed in 2016.

Board Member Kathy Hall voiced frustrations over Washington County taking advantage of a court-supported loophole allowing officials to use a cash fund from taxpayers for county projects exclusively.

“It really disappoints me that we have county commissioners that are paying attention to 8,000 students and not the 16,000 that they’re supposed to be taking care of,” Hall said.

Hall said sitting down with county officials to figure out how to meet both systems’ needs is “imperative.”

Board Member Jonathan Kinnick and Tom Hager emphasized that the city district is concerned about equity in regard to capital funding. Hager said their concerns are “nothing against the Washington County Board of Education.” He and other board members also recognized the county’s needs.

In other business, Barnett’s contract was extended one year to June 30, 2023. Barnett was given the same 1% raise all employees of the district were given for the 2019-20 school year, bringing his current salary to $144,026. 

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