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Johnson City school board continues discussing capital needs, Jonesborough

Brandon Paykamian • Sep 30, 2019 at 10:00 PM

The Johnson City Board of Education once again voiced its concerns over its capital needs relative to the county’s needs at Monday’s board meeting.

This time, Washington County Board of Education Chairman Keith Ervin was in attendance, listening to their concerns.

Last month, Jonesborough unveiled a proposal to fund a new K-8 school and sports complex estimated to cost between $28 million and 32 million. The plan was approved by the Washington County Board of Education.

According to state law, districts within the county share all county tax revenue devoted to schools, and Johnson City should receive a share from any Washington County capital bonds issued for school buildings. But if Jonesborough uses its own funding to build a school as it plans, there would be no bonds to share between the two districts.

“I’ve been having lots of conversations with city leadership, (Johnson City Schools Superintendent) Dr. (Steve) Barnett and counsel, and there are a lot of things going on to evaluate our options for the city on the city’s side,” Johnson City Board of Education Chairman Tim Belisle said, adding that city school officials will be watching Tuesday evening’s Washington County Commission workshop meeting regarding the Jonesborough school plan.

Board Member Jonathan Kinnick said Johnson City board members “know they have needs” for a new school in Jonesborough, but is concerned about the city’s needs. He and Board Member Kathy Hall said capital needs in Johnson City will continue to be a pressing concern for the city as enrollment continues to grow. 

This concern comes amid a new reconfiguration plan for the city district, which plans to place fifth-graders back into elementary schools and create two middle schools for grades 6-8 out of Indian Trail Intermediate School and Liberty Bell Middle School.

The plan will require new facilities at Towne Acres Elementary School and renovations to Lake Ridge, Woodland and South Side Elementary schools — contributing to about $30 million in capital needs for the city.

Over the past few weeks, city and county officials have explored how to achieve some sort of “win-win” situation to meet both system’s capital needs. After listening to board members’ concerns, Ervin said he would also like to see a solution that benefits both systems. 

“I support all kids in Washington County,” he said to the board. 

Belisle emphasized that there is “no animosity” toward the county school board and said both systems have “been impacted by inaction” on the part of the Washington County Commission. 

“It’s unfortunate that there are some people who want to cast this as a Johnson City versus Jonesborough matter when, in fact, this is a Johnson City and Jonesborough versus county commission matter. The county commission has sat on its hand for several years now (to) not work to fund a school for Jonesborough while, at the same time, they spent a lot of time trying to figure out how they can avoid returning to the citizens of Johnson City capital that they spend on the schools in Washington County,” Belisle said. 

In other business, the Johnson City Board of Education was named a Board of Distinction by Tennessee School Board Association Northeast District Director and Washington County Board of Education member Todd Ganger. Ganger left shortly after giving the board special recognition. 

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