County officials talk school facilities study, safety measures

School officials and future students broke ground on the newest Washington County School in July of 2017, but safety features for the school and other future schools are on the minds of those on the county commission and the school board.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

Plans for the Washington County School District’s “Washington Way” facilities plan have been the talk of the county for a while — but talk of a different kind of plan to aid the projects are now being discussed by the Washington County Board of Education and the Washington County Commission.

Commissioner Tom Krieger proposed that the school district hire an outside source to conduct a school facilities study in order to assess population shifts, zoning considerations and other school district factors to gain comprehensive information for future facility projects.

Krieger also suggested that the study include analysis and suggestions regarding upcoming projects such as the academic magnet school and a career and technical facility as well as technology needs and existing school facility evaluations.

“We feel the need to move this ahead because we’re already starting to build that new school (Boones Creek School),” Krieger said at the county commission’s health education and welfare committee meeting on Thursday, Aug. 3. “We should be making plans in the system before we do any more brick and mortar.”

was also present at the HEW committee meeting, said she felt a school facility study such as this would give the school district a sort of map of the best areas in which to build a school.

“It really told (Maury County) where not to build schools,” Halliburton explained. “Although they are a growing, growing community — I mean, they’re busting at the seams — there are pockets there that were just not enough of a population to warrant building a school.”

The director also expressed her thoughts on how she felt the study could save tax-payer dollars in the long run.

“Sometimes you don’t see (the amount of money saved) on a spreadsheet. For instance, they could say, ‘don’t build a school here’ when we might very well build a school there if we don’t have such a study,” Halliburton said. “We don’t know what’s going to come out of this. It could be a recommendation to merge two schools into one.

“ I hesitate to say that, but I guess my point is that you don’t know what might come out of this that could really save us a significant amount of dollars.”

Zoning would be another focus in such a study. For Halliburton, who acknowledged how quickly the new Boones Creek School construction project seemed to be coming along, zoning is an area in which she, and the community, would like some insight.

“The sooner I get someone to start taking a look at zoning lines for that new school, the better. I’m getting a lot of comments from that Shadden neighborhood. A significant amount of residents from that neighborhood have approached me and said, ‘We’re not zoned for this new Boones Creek School and we’re right behind it.’ I think that’s something I want whoever this individual is to take a look at so that we can start informing parents who is actually going to be at Boones Creek. That’s not the whole purpose of this but that’s part of the piece.”

Meanwhile, Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge had concerns for the existing schools and maintaining those facilities through the future.

“You all have heard me say this: from my perspective, Washington County is out of the school-building business for at least a generation as soon as these two projects are finished, which means our entire focus needs to shift to our existing facilities we have and what it’s going to take to maintain them at the optimal level of functionality and long-term use,” Eldridge said. “I would hope that’s something that could come from this study.”

The most important piece of the facilities study discussion, however, focused on school safety and security features that could also be included in such a study.

“I’m the chairman of first district homeland security,” Eldridge said. “Unfortunately, from time to time, I have to go to Nashville and receive briefings on what the threats are.

“And that just keeps the hair on the back of my neck standing up. It makes me think about school security a lot because our schools are particularly vulnerable—and I’m not just talking about just Washington County—I’m talking about schools in general. They are soft targets.

“I would like for this study to really evaluate where we are in regard to assessing the threats and understanding the vulnerability of our facilities and our students are to the threats that are changing. That needs to be a part of what we’re doing here.”

The school district’s maintenance supervisor, Phillip Patrick, said the current plans for the Boones Creek School include all the safety features obtained by current Washington County Schools such as door locks, a buzz-in front entrance and a security camera system. Halliburton said a nearly bullet-proof type of glass will be used at Boones Creek.

Eldridge said he felt a separate look at safety features for the new Boones Creek School would need to be done apart from the school facility study. He also said he felt a school safety study would help provide feedback for the district’s current security measures.

“Maybe looking at this is a really good idea,” Eldridge said, “because that would give us an indication by looking at what has been designed and planned for Boones Creek. It’s going to give us a really good idea regarding the effectiveness of what’s already been done in all the other schools.”

The proposal will be discussed again with projected school facility study costs at next month’s HEW committee meeting on Sept. 7 at 1 p.m. in the historic courthouse in Jonesborough.

BMA reverses fluoride decision in 4-0 vote

The BMA met on Monday night to overturn their decision regarding the town’s water.

By LISA WHALEY

Publisher

lwhaley@heraldandtribune.com

Jonesborough’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously Monday night to reject its previously agreed upon plans to discontinue the use of fluoride in the town’s drinking water.

“Since this issue was brought before the board, I’ve struggled to have many of my questions about our water treatment process answered,” Aldermen Chuck Vest —  who voted in February against fluoride’s use in town water — told the board at the Aug. 14 meeting.

“I’ve tried to keep an open mind,” he continued. “So recently a reputable study from the Mayo Clinic was released  and I’ve had more conversations with professionals I respect and trust.”

Now, he said, with the board poised to approve the next step in a journey begun in February, Vest asked the board to reverse its course.

“I ask that we deny the authorization of the letter (to let customers know of the move to discontinue fluoride) and continue a treatment process we’ve known for most of our lives,” Vest said.

The motion was quickly seconded by Alderman David Sell, followed by a quick yes vote from both Terry Countermine and Jerome Fitzgerald.

Monday’s vote was a complete change of opinion for three of the town’s four aldermen, who voted in the Feb. 13 BMA meeting to no longer add fluoride to the town’s drinking water. Countermine was, at that time, the lone dissenting vote.

Since that time, however, and with a planned summer implementation of the “no fluoride” policy tentatively set for July, advocates on both sides of the aisle continued to pepper the board with what they considered key points.

Arguments revolved around issues of the importance of fluoride to prevent tooth decay verses its possible

dangers and the possible impact on lower income families in the region.

Local health professionals soon joined together with a goal of somehow reversing the February votes and Letters to the Editor poured into the Herald & Tribune from young and old.

Monday night, it seemed the flood of information had its impact.

“I’ve been wrestling with this for a long time, and I’ve talked to a lot of people,” Alderman Sell said before Monday night’s vote. “I’ve talked to people on the science part of it and the non-science part of it.

“It’s still probably going to be up for debate down the road. And its the toughest decision I’ve had to make.”

However, he said, “We haven’t seen any hard scientific evidence (of dangers) yet that may lead us into reversing (tonight’s decision)”

Vest said that in addition to new EPA and Mayo Clinic reports, it was the one-on-one discussions that really made the difference.

“I’ve had some really good constructive conversations with people I trust and respect,” Vest said. “Bob (Browning) did a good job in providing us information on both sides of the issue. And it was easy to find yourself going back and forth.”

Still, in the end, he said he felt a change of course was necessary, even if it wasn’t necessarily easy. “It’s hard no to get prideful, but sometimes prideful is not the best thing,” Vest said.

Mayor Kelly Wolfe said the Aug. 14 decision showed the strength of Jonesborough board and its aldermen.

“This is an issue we’ve talked about for over a year and a half,” Wolfe said. “I’m very proud of each and every member of this board. This is an issue that is debated the highest levels nationally.

“This is an issue with paid advocates on both sides making very, very strong claims.

“This is an issue that probably won’t be settled in our lifetime, realistically, yet our board has done an excellent job in being very fair, very deliberative, I think very open minded in this process … These folks weren’t afraid to look at this issue.”

Countermine, who had long supported continuing the fluoridation of Jonesborough water said he was pleasantly surprised and proud.

Some people think that changing your mind is bad,” Countermine said. “But if you learn something new, changing your mind can be a good thing.”

Telford man wanted for questioning found deceased

Curtis Lee Cloyd of Telford, who was wanted for questioning in regards to his wife, Lisa Maria Cloyd’s disappearance, was found deceased at 147 Miller Drive on Thursday, Aug. 10.

Curtis Lee Cloyd

According to the Washington County Sherriff’s Office, Curtis Cloyd died from an “apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound” after he ran from the local law enforcement into the house and barricaded the door. Cloyd was armed with a handgun and had two outstanding arrest warrants for felony reckless endangerment and unlawful possession of a weapon before he fled from the police on Sunday night.

The WCSO SWAT team and members of the Johnson City Police Department responded on Thursday and attempted to convince Cloyd to come out of the residence. According to the release issued by the WCSO, “SWAT members utilized a police robot equipped with a two-way radio to enter the house in order to attempt to talk with him which was unsuccessful. Officers then deployed pepper spray into the home in an attempt to force Cloyd outside, which was unsuccessful.” Once the team made it into the house, Cloyd has succumbed to the gunshot wound.

Lisa Maria Cloyd

Lisa Maria Cloyd was reported missing by her son on Thursday Aug. 3 after no one had heard for the 53-year-old woman since July 20. Her son said the lack of contact was very out of character for his mother. The Telford woman is 120 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. Anyone with any information regarding Lisa Maria Cloyd is asked to call WCSO at (423)788-1414.

Husband sought in connection with missing Telford woman

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office continues to search for a Telford woman who was reported missing by her son on Thursday Aug. 3.

Lisa Maria Cloyd, 53, 120 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes, has been missing since July 20 and has not been in contact with her family. Her lack of communication is considered unusual and out of character for her according to her family.

Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal told the Herald & Tribune that his department is also looking for Lisa Maria Cloyd’s husband, Curtis Cloyd, 50, who fled from his mother’s house on Miller Road when approached by police.

“We wanted to talk to him to see if he knew anything, where she might be or anything like that. He didn’t want to and as a result, when we got to his mom’s house, he had the gun,” Graybeal said. “No one was hurt. At first it was just a couple (of officers) that went to talk to him. Then he ran out the back door and through the woods. Due to what happened there in the residence, we charged him with reckless endangerment. So we’re trying to find him on that charge.

“We’d still like to see what he knows about his wife and this young man’s momma.”

Curtis Cloyd, 149 Slate Hill Road, Telford, was last seen with a handgun. Graybeal said area police have been notified of the search for the white male who lives at 149 Slate Hill Road in Telford. Graybeal also said Curtis Cloyd has been incarcerated at least six times.

“As far as we know, when he left he was armed. And he does not like law enforcement. He’s told us that before,” Graybeal said. “We sent a message that night to all the agencies around telling them because you just don’t know what frame of mind somebody’s in when they see a cop and they just take off. We wanted all the agencies to know that the last time we came across him did have a handgun with him.”

The department is also hoping to gather more information on Lisa Maria Cloyd’s whereabouts, as well as her condition.

“That’s what we’ve been working on finding out (if she’s okay). We’ve checked with everyone —hospitals and everyone we can check with. Nobody has her anywhere” Graybeal said. “We put her in the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) trying to help her son figure out what happened to his mom.

“Whenever someone files a missing persons report and tells us that their whole schedule has changed, and they haven’t heard from them and they usually do, it’s concerning to us and the family also.”

Any person with any information regarding Lisa Maria or Curtis Cloyd’s whereabouts is asked to call (423)788-1414 or a local law enforcement agency. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office has also asked the public to not approach Curtis Cloyd if seen.

Haslam sparks talk on farmers’ future

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

Tennessee’s governor stood under a colossal “Washington Farmers” sign on Depot Street Friday morning. Though he was surrounded by local farmers ready to hear what Governor Bill Haslam came to Washington Farmers Co-op to talk about, the Knoxville native told the group he was there to here from the farming community itself.

“If you came to hear a speech, you’re in the wrong place. When you tell people you’re the governor, people either think you know nothing or they think you know everything. The truth is you know a little bit about a lot of different things but you don’t know as much as you’d like about hardly anything,” Haslam said. “Agriculture is still incredibly important to our state. I say it all the time, but these are the people who are providing jobs in rural areas. State wide we’re doing pretty good. Right now the state has the lowest unemployment rate in the history of the state. But there are pockets where that isn’t true and it’s primarily in our rural areas. Agriculture plays a big role in that.”

Haslam spoke on two of the state’s newest movements such as the broadband initiative to provide internet and phone services to rural areas and

the IMPROVE Act, which is an increase on gasoline and diesel taxes designed to fund improvements on Tennessee’s highways and bridges.

The most important topic, however, involved ways to generate interest in agriculture.

Haslam cited the state’s discontinuation of the estate tax after a farm’s owner is deceased as an initiative to aid the declining number of farmers.

“Three years ago we did do away with the estate tax which means when you die your farm’s not subject to a death tax,” Haslam explained. “One of the things we were seeing were farms weren’t going from one generation to another because the whole family’s asset was in that farm. When they died and passed it on, they owed money and some of the time had to sell that farm in order to pay the tax.”

According to the the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the average age of farmers has continued to increase throughout the last 30 years. For Dustin Pearson, a local stocker operator from Gray who was in attendance during Haslam’s co-op visit, the continued loss of farmland doesn’t help the agriculture business.

“If you look at the land prices in East Tennessee, and especially the Tri-Cities area, it’s $15,000 to $25,000 an acre. We don’t have the acreage of land any more. It’s being cut up into subdivisions. I asked a builder once, ‘You’re taking all this land for houses?’ and he said, ‘well people need a place to live.’ I said, ‘Yea, but if they don’t have food to eat, it’s not going to matter.’”

The USDA census data found that from 2007 to 2012, there was a 20-percent drop in the total number of beginning farmers in the U.S. But Pearson, who was a younger member of Friday’s crowd and is a member of state agricultural boards, is part of the farming population that is trying to continue his line of work.

“I’m out there being vocal as a younger person. I enjoy being in agriculture. I love what I do so I try to be an advocate for it,” Pearson said. “This is to make it known. We are so far removed. They like to say the top of the industries in Tennessee are agriculture-based as far as dollars brought back into the state. But then again, they don’t do nothing to address the aging farmers and who’s going to fill their shoes.

“I grew up in it. But I grew up in it in the same sense that I’ve got brothers and cousins that didn’t want no part in it because of the work it took. I was the only one left. I loved it so much—I’m still staying in it.”

Now Pearson is looking at future generations and what could be ahead for his sons and the path they choose—which might not include agriculture.

“Now with two boys of my own—they’re with me all the time on the farm—they aren’t going to have much choice until their 18 whether they’re going to farm or not,” Pearson said. “Right now I wouldn’t tell you that I want them to go into it because you can work a whole lot easier and make a whole lot more money.”

That’s not to say that the farming profession is one to be taken lightly. For folks like Pearson and many other standing in the parking lot of the co-op, the work ethic and various job titles involved in agriculture prepares you for various kinds of work, no matter the field. 

“That’s a feather in your cap at these job interviews,” Pearson said, “because not only do you have a work ethic, but you’ve been exposed to a lot of different mechanical issues—financial issues.’

“We’re weathermen. We’re bankers. We’re mechanics. We’ve got to be able to do everything.”

Haslam continued his tour through East Tennessee on Friday, stopping in at The Grainger County Tomato Festival and at Jake’s Big Red Barn produce in Rutledge, Tennessee.

Food truck serves up authenticity

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

If you’ve driven down 11-E within the past few months, chances are you’ve seen a bright red food truck sitting at the edge of Ace Hardware’s parking lot. You might not know it while speeding past the mobile business, but upon walking up to this recent addition to Jonesborough’s lunch-time options, patrons have the options of numerous, authentic Mexican foods and an owner who is willing to share his story.

The food truck, El Lagunero, belongs to Eduardo and Claudia Rojas who are originally from Mexico. After changing his original career plans, Eduardo said he sought the United States for work and has been here for the last 32 years.

“When I was younger I did something very different. I started (to be) an engineer in Mexico,” Eduardo said. “I almost finished. I lacked one year to finish. So I wanted to try to come to the United States and that’s what I did. I said, ‘I’m just going to go and try to come back.’ I came here and started working. I see a lot of difference here than in my place. So I stayed and I’ve been here for a long while.”

Since then, Eduardo said, he has remodeled houses before his back injury and he’s also worked on the river and various farms. He even worked for a company that built cell phone towers and took him throughout the United States. But now he says he is ready for the kind of work involved with operating a food truck.

“I worked to build cell towers in other states. But now I’m tired of being everywhere around. I said, ‘Okay, that’s enough.’ I go for three weeks, one month, and come back and stay two or three days and go back again. I said ‘I’m tired’. So I started working on my own business,” Eduardo said. “It’s a lot of different. It’s almost 360 degrees around to work on a farm to work in a kitchen.”

Now, the Rojas are ready to share their native foods with the people of East Tennessee. The menu lists foods like tacos with  corn tortillas, steak quesadillas, crunchy tostadas, tortas (a Mexican sandwich) and hot tamales (which are available on Thursdays and Sundays). Though it may not be hard to find a burrito or taco at other Mexican restaurants around town, Eduardo explained to the Herald & Tribune that he is offering a more authentic take on Mexican foods.

“The sauce, my wife makes it like we make it at the house,” Eduardo said. “It’s a lot of difference. We make hot tamales like they made it in Mexico. Everything is that way.”

Not only is the food a representation of The Rojas’ homeland, but their native city, Torreón (in the state of Coahuila in Mexico), is also honored through the name of their food truck, El Lagunero.

“A long time ago it just meant ‘a big lake’ that’s what they call ‘la laguna’ there in Mexico. And the people there call it ‘Lagunero’. It used to be like a lake. Now it’s too dry. It’s like a desert but they still call it Laguna Laguerno.

“(The truck) is something that people come and see and say, ‘Oh we saw the ‘Lagunero’ and we were thinking you were from Coahuila’ and I say, ‘Yes, you are right.’ Because it’s from all the people in Lagunero.”

For Eduardo and his wife, El Lagunero is about representing where they come from, which is a place they are able to visit for vacation thanks to the flexibility of running your own food truck.

But Eduardo said that for him, the business is about sharing real Mexican food all while doing the kind of work that he enjoys most.“I like to work. And I like the way I’m going to be working in here. It makes me happy when people come and say when they leave, ‘the food was great.’ I like to let people eat something we make in Mexico,” Eduardo said, “something that’s a different style. Because most of the restaurants here is a Tex Mex. It’s a little different. And here, it’s like it would taste in Mexico. People come and they say, ‘Oh this food tastes good!’ And they come back. It makes me feel good. I can do something different.”

West View goes beyond supplies

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

Soon enough the aisles of your local stores will be covered with pencils, composition notebooks and erasers—but at West View Elementary School, volunteers are already filling school counselor Clarinda Whitson’s classroom with all the school supplies they can muster for each of their students.

The school is aiming to equip each and every student with all their school supplies, and with a student poverty rate at 75 percent, the school sent a letter into the community to announce the Aug. 4 Back to School Bash and to request donations for everything from glue sticks and crayons to pencils and highlighters. But the school is hoping to provide more than just educational supplies; Whitson and the West View Vols are making sure these kids come to school with the essentials as well.

Wanda Corby (left) and Brenda Corby (right) bring donations to West View, courtesy of Limestone Family Eye Center. These community members loved picking out supplies for West View students.

“What I’m noticing is those first couple days of school. There was a huge difference in how the children from lower income families were dressed as opposed to the kids from an average or medium income family,” Whitson said. “They still had on the shoes the school bought them last year or at Christmas time. They had the same backpacks. They didn’t have haircuts. So those were things in the past years that we’ve been able to provide. But it would take the first week or so to get all those things to the students.

“I want my kids to walk in and them not be able to tell the difference. Just so those kids feel better about themselves. So they don’t feel like they stick out.”

Since the beginning of last year’s Back to School Bash, the goal has been to provide every student with the supplies, but it’s also been to help build student self-esteem.

West View Assistant Principal Adam Graham stands ready to assist with donations.

“You could tell a difference in the confidence in these kids because they weren’t having to go ask the teachers, ‘Can I go to Mrs. Whitson and get a new backpack?’ They came in that first day with that new stuff,” Whitson said. “They weren’t the ones that didn’t have the notebooks that the teacher asked for. And they weren’t having to go ask for it—they had it already.”

Whitson said the carnival-style event — which will feature inflatables, games and free food — will give students the chance to “win” their school supplies through the different games at the bash, all

while having fun.

She also said it gives the students who might not need as much assistance to still play games and enjoy the event. It will also give parents a chance to casually meet their child’s teacher before the school’s open house. Meanwhile, kids will be able to get their school supplies while families have the opportunity to take home any soap or shampoo they might need that will also be available at the event.

For West View Head Principal Patton Gamble, what’s most memorable from last year’s inaugural event were the parent volunteers who offered free haircuts to students.

“Last year, one of the things that stuck out in my mind was one of our parents and a colleague, they cut hair from the start to beyond the end time,” Whitson said. “I think she’s going to have more than just a couple this year, but that was a big deal.”

Those services don’t just end at the bash; Gamble also said folks at West View, like Whitson, try to watch out for these needs from the start of school and beyond.

“Mrs. Whitson will take 10 or 12 kids on a bus up to Crockett to their cosmetology department to have haircuts. It really changes the kids’ self esteem. For those parents, it gets expensive if you’ve got five kids, yourself and a spouse. That’s seven haircuts,” Gamble said. “That’s something Mrs. Whitson has an eye for, seeing when a pair of tennis shoes are worn out or a kid’s backpack is falling apart. She sees it and not everybody’s looking.

“The kids, they may think that others are looking at them. Whether they are or not, if that perception is there, that effects how you react. Mrs. Whitson does a great job taking care of those kids as quietly and unassuming as possible so the kids don’t get added attention.”

The school also houses a food pantry for students who need those extra nutrients they might not be receiving elsewhere. There’s a supply of socks, shoes, pants and other clothes waiting in the wings for any kids who might need such items. The school even provides food bags throughout the year and food boxes full of kid-friendly, readily available food for students to take home with them over the weekend.

“We have a food pantry that we are constantly using,” Whitson said. “Most of my teachers will say every morning, ‘Who got their breakfast this morning? Who went to the cafeteria?’ And we have granola bars and boxes of cereal the kids can snack on because several of our kids don’t go home and eat. It’s just what they eat at school.”

West View Principal Patton Gamble shows the Herald & Tribune the school’s food pantry for students.

“It’s all encompassing. The community is great to take care of the whole child and family,” Whitson said. “It’s not just an 8-3, Monday through Friday school year thing. It’s any time of the day, any day of the year. If there’s a need, we can find a way to get it.”

While items such as composition notebooks, pronged folders, scissors, expo markers and index cards are all on the list of donations needed for the Back To School Bash at West View, there’s one item Whitson says is usually the toughest to acquire.

“Backpacks. Backpacks are probably the hardest to get in because they are more expensive,” Whitson said. “But that’s really what we need, just a variety of size and age-appropriate backpacks because we’re kindergarten through eighth grade so that’s a big difference.”

Those at West View, like Whitson and Gamble, however, also want to offer these services in a careful way that is conducive to each family.

“(Hand outs) are not what we want and that’s not what the majority of our families want either,” Whitson explained. “There’s a lot of pride in people here. There’s a lot of minimum wage families and it just doesn’t make ends meet. But lots of these families cannot fathom the thought of asking for help. So that’s where it kind of comes into it being offered for everyone and it’s not just a ‘come pick up your stuff and be on your way.’ This is a family fun event.”

At West View, Gamble said they don’t just want to reach out to students; one of the many projects the West View Vols are involved in are community service projects that teach students to reach out and help those around them.

“We try to remind kids it’s not all about them. Each grade level has projects to work with different community organizations so that they can look beyond themselves and look beyond their school and know that there is a lot out there,” Gamble explained. “It might be to the animal shelter—they’ll take food and go and visit. It might be to the Crumley House to go sing and to go reach out as well. It gives them experiences that give them a chance to give back too.”

If you were to ask Whitson how an event like the Back to School Bash is able to happen, she’d most likely chalk it up to a supportive community. But if you ask her why an event like this is needed, she’d say it’s because of the idea of family.

“I guess it does come back to our school and our community is a family,” Whitson said. “And we want to continue that feel and that tradition of ‘You’re a West View Vol the rest of your life. If you ever need anything, you can go right back to that school and we’re going to help you in some form or fashion.’ Once you leave there, you still have a home I guess, no matter where you are. Our community just helps them and we support that idea of family.

That’s what she hopes to get across in the work that she and everyone at West View does throughout the year.

“I want them to know you might go into high school, you might transfer and go to another school, but if you ever need anything, you can come back to West View. You can call the school and we’re going to find a way to help you—because we are your family. No matter where you go or where you end up, we’re kind of the backbone.”

The Back to School Bash will be on Friday Aug. 4 at the school from 4 to 7 p.m. Donations are welcome by Wednesday, Aug. 2 and can be dropped off at West View Elementary School (2847 Old State Route 34, Limestone, Tennessee). For more information call (423)753-1175.

Williams wins commission seat

 

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

“I think you need a woman,” Suzy Williams, the newest member of the Washington County Commission, said to the board of 23 all-male commissioners in attendance at the July 24 commission meeting just before she won the seat.

Williams was in the running for a spot in the fourth district left vacant by Katie Baker whose departure was announced at the June commission meeting. The other candidates were

Josh Culbert, Jodi Jones and Tracy Teal all of Johnson City.

To win, the candidate had to receive 13 votes. If none of the candidates received 13 votes in a round, the candidate with the least amount of votes drops off and another round of voting begins. After five rounds of voting, and after Culbert was eliminated in the fourth round and Jones in the third, Williams topped with 15 votes while Teal earned eight.

“I was asked to fill this position and I am more than glad to do it,” Williams said. “I will not look at this as a stepping stone for future opportunities in the political arena in the area, but I would be more than glad to research and make wise decisions with you all.”

Among Williams’ 40-plus years of community work, she has been a part of the Johnson City Board of Education, Mountain States Health Alliance, the Children’s Advocacy Center for the sexually abused and Niswonger Children’s Hospital.

Commissioner Tom Krieger nominated Culbert, Commissioner Larry England nominated Jones and Commissioner Lee Chase nominated Teal.

Commissioner Richard Johnson, who also serves the fourth district and was added to the commission in February, nominated Williams during the meeting.

“I’d like to point out that she’s resided in Washington County, I believe, longer than any of the other candidates and has lived in the fourth district for 40 plus years,” Johnson said of Williams. “She knows the people of the fourth district.”

Before Commissioner Baker vacated her seat, Johnson filled a spot left by Commissioner David Tomita who departed from the commission to focus on his new role as the Mayor of Johnson City.

Baker nominated Jones during that meeting to join her as a commissioner of the fourth district.

Williams is now the sole woman on the board of commissioners.

More academic coaches to be hired in county

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

The Washington County Board of Education is changing the way in which it will spend its future differentiated pay funds.

The school board passed the motion to use differentiated pay to add five academic coaches to the school system in a 5-4 vote during the board’s regularly scheduled July 6 meeting. Board members Annette Buchanan, Marybeth Dellinger, Keith Ervin and Phillip McLain voted against the proposal.

Differentiated pay is designed to help pay teachers who work in hard-to-staff subject areas such as higher level math classes. Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton defined it simply as “extra pay for extra work” at the June 15 budget meeting, but recently, the state made a few changes in how the funds are to be used in the school system—and those changes make it a bit more complex.

The Tennessee State Board of Education’s differentiated pay plan policy says “The primary purpose of differentiated pay is to support educator effectiveness and improve teacher recruitment and retention.” Now that teacher development is more of the focus for the state, the Washington County Department of Education’s Director of Federal Programs, Ellis Holcombe, came with a proposal to add academic coaches to the school system with the funding dollars that he said are historically used for summer and after-school educational services.

“The thing that effected us the most was that we had had a plan for four years that had been ‘more pay for more work’ and had been primarily used for summer school and for tutoring,” Holcombe said. “We had to change direction because the real focus for the state is teacher leadership and giving teachers the chance to expand their abilities in these leadership roles.”

Before next year’s budget was finalized, Halliburton attempted to add four more academic coaches to the budget. Due to budget cuts, Halliburton received two of those.

Academic coaches are designed to improve teacher performance and time management, goal setting and test preparation skills. Holcombe, who said he was charted with the responsibility of finding the money to add such coaches, called Lamar School Head Principal Shannon Gray to talk to the board about the difference she believes these additional coaches could make.

“We don’t really have a mentoring program anymore,” Gray said. “That would allow us a coach within our school that’s going to want to do well for our school, will show growth for our school, will act as a mentor for our new teachers and as support for our administrators to help.”

However, the 24 staffing position cuts made in next year’s budget were also part of the conversation—and a concern for school board member Phillip McLain in light of the newly added academic coaches.

“I understand all the benefits that have been described in this. What I truly struggle with is the budget process we went through,” McLain said. “The director identified so many positions that were going to be eliminated. And now all of the sudden, we have the money to do all this. That’s what I struggle with.”

Halliburton cited the decline in student enrollment in Washington County Schools as a driving force for those teaching and instructional-aide positon cuts; the school system lost 155 students between the last two school years which also reduced this year’s basic education program funding by $560,000.

“We’ve lost nearly 800 kids in the past eight years. We didn’t have a need for as many adults to serve given that our enrollment is down,” Halliburton said. “It’s a waste of tax-payer money to over-employ.”

This isn’t the first time the differentiated pay plan was mentioned at a BOE meeting; at the board’s June 15 meeting, McLain asked if the differentiated pay plan would be reexamined after the audit report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 showed salary increases without board approval.

Washington County’s differentiated pay plan for 2016 to 2017 requires a description of the hard-to-staff school subject or placement, education and experience, additional instructional roles and or responsibilities and the estimated cost of salary expenditures. Following the audit review with accounting firm Blackburn, Childers and Steagall, Leonard told the Herald & Tribune that the board might also take another look at the school system’s differentiated pay plan in the future. The state website on differentiated pay plans also encourages Tennessee school districts to reflect on the year’s plans accordingly.

The Herald & Tribune has made a public records request to obtain details of the salary increases from the audit report.

Battle continues as town moves toward discontinuation

Mary Anne Snyder-Sowers, daughter of an area dentist, discusses the CDC’s recommendations in regard to fluoride.

By BONNIE BAILEY

H&T Correspondent

Emotions ran high at a public debate regarding water fluoridation in Jonesborough on Thursday, July 6.

About 20 citizens of Jonesborough and surrounding areas attended the hour-long meeting, which began at 6:30 p.m. at the Jonesborough Senior Center, to debate the decision to no longer add fluoride to the Jonesborough water supply.

In February, the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 3-1 to discontinue fluoride additives in the water, but that decision has been met with opposition from members of the community, some of which are calling for another vote or a reversal of the decision.

Allen Burleson, a local dentist, has even started an online petition, along with other local medical professionals, aimed at keeping fluoridated water.

In response to such opposition, Ron Myers and other residents who support the BMA’s decision organized a  public debate to encourage more discourse on the topic, urging residents on both sides of the issue to attend.

“I think it was very productive,” Myers, a retired industrial engineer, said. “I think we got both sides of the issue discussed very well.”

Ron Myers makes a point against fluoride at Thursday’s public meeting.

The debate, which became tense at times, focused on the pros and cons of fluoridated water in the community. Several fluoridation supporters discussed the health benefits, citing the importance of fluoride in helping to prevent cavities, which supporters said is especially important in poverty-stricken areas where dental care may not be feasible for residents.

Mary Anne Snyder-Sowers, a strong supporter of water fluoridation and the daughter of an area dentist, expressed disbelief at the BMA’s decision.

“The CDC considers the reduction of tooth decay from fluoridation to be one of the top public health achievements of the twentieth century,” Snyder-Sowers said. “I don’t understand why when something is working… why do we want to break it?”

Local dentist Lon Reed agreed, saying he believed it was “wrong-headed” to remove properly adjusted fluoride from the water.

“I think you’re going to hurt children,” Reed said, “and you’re going to hurt adults.”

Reed said he attended a meeting before the vote with the purpose of addressing the BMA and was disappointed that he wasn’t allowed to speak due to not arriving in time to sign up.

“I sat through the whole meeting and the mayor denied me the floor,” Reed said. “I’m very disappointed in that because they allowed people outside the community… to take the floor and spend an inordinate amount of time.”

Another attendee admitted to a change of heart after attending the same meeting about water fluoridation last year.

“I almost had an attitude that we should take fluoride out of the water, and I was totally impressed that every single medical person who stood up and spoke about keeping fluoride in the water was passionate… and was very concerned about the children in this area,” Ed Wolff, a retired pastor, said. “When I left I had a totally different attitude.”

Those opposing water fluoridation, and who approve of the board’s decision to remove fluoride, focused their arguments on the rights of the individual, pointing out that residents should get to choose what medications they ingest.

“To me when you start force-medicating the water supply, and you don’t have a choice whether you are medicated or not. To me that’s un-American,” Myers said. “That’s like a third-world dictatorship.”

Myers and others opposing fluoridation also voiced concern over ingesting or bathing in fluoridated water due to health reasons.

“I’m really concerned about the material they choose to fluoridate the water with… which has a bunch of contaminants in it that shouldn’t be in there, like arsenic,” Myers said, “which is a known human carcinogen.”

Myers has spent about 15 years researching the topic of water fluoridation. He became interested in the subject when his wife was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid. Myers said his research suggests an underactive thyroid may be attributed to fluoridated water.

In addition, Myers said the argument for keeping fluoride in the water supply to help prevent cavities doesn’t address the real issue.

“Instead of focusing on the water…. why not address the real cause of the problem,” he said, “which is too much sugar consumption?”

Myers, who grew up in Jonesborough, is currently a resident of Johnson City, and he hopes to address the issue of water contaminants and fluoridation in Johnson City after the fluoride issue in Jonesborough is settled.

BMA OKs budget for 2017-2018

By LISA WHALEY

Publisher

lwhaley@heraldandtribune.com

The Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously approved the town’s 2017-2018 budget Tuesday in an early morning meeting that held little discussion but lots of positive comments.

“We have a lot to be thankful for,” said Mayor Kelly Wolfe as he shared some compliments from a number of weekend visitors who came for the Jonesborough Days festivities and ended up voicing a wish to stay for good.

The newly approved budget includes no increases in water, sewer or garbage rates, as well as no increase in taxes, and it also maintained the tight fiscal policy and attention to details that has served the town well in the past and should continue to do so in the future, according to Wolfe.

“We continue to see very important capital improvements in our water and sewer system and are enjoying the fact that we can finally buy equipment on a cash-basis when needed instead of borrowing for every little thing,” Wolfe said, listing some of the benefits from working to get the town on a more solid financial footing. “We’ve done several things over the years to get to this position. The most important of which is switching out older water meters and updating the efficiencies of the water and sewer plants.”

That inefficiency had cost the town greatly in the past, he said.

“Our water loss has gone from 60 percent to 15 percent, and that can’t help but lower your operating costs a great deal,” Wolfe added.

Even with an emphasis on conservative fiscal management, such savings has meant the town has still9 been able to purchase a new fire truck, new firefighter equipment and new police cruisers, as well as enhance Jonesborough’s social media capabilities — a skill that is crucial in this day and age, Wolfe said.

“We see great crowds at events like Jonesborough Days that I believe validate the direction we are going.”

For details of the Jonesborough 2017-2018 budget, call Town Hall at 753-1030.

Commission tables volunteer firefighter idea

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

Three public safety requests have been blazing a trail through multiple county commission committees as of late, but at the Wednesday, June 21, budget meeting, the fire to pass those requests was doused—for now.

Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge asked the committee to defer additional funding requests from Washington County Volunteer Fire Departments, Washington County-Johnson City EMS and Washington County Emergency Communications District (911) until after the upcoming fiscal year’s budget is finalized.

Eldridge also said he hopes to find a source of recurring funding for these public safety requests, including the work he plans to do to provide the volunteer fire departments with additional daytime staff. To do this, Eldridge said he will be working with the County Technical Assistance Service, an organization designed to assist county governments in various fields such as fiscal administration, accounting and public works.

“I think the point of what I wanted the budget committee to understand is that while we’re all very interested in figuring out a way to improve the quality of the fire service in the county with the daytime staffing, it is a very complicated issue working within the laws,” Eldridge told the Herald & Tribune. “There’s a lot of support for it. A lot of us are very interested in getting something done with this, but there are so many moving parts, so many limitations in the state law.

“The bottom line is it’s just going to take more time. And we need the expertise of the CTAS consultants to really guide us through this.”

Meanwhile, Eldridge is looking to aid EMS’ additional funding request through the revenue they could receive from the county for the transport of prisoners from the Washington County Detention Center to local medical facilities.

“Basically, it would be an amount equivalent to what they’ve asked for,” Eldridge said. “There has been an ongoing request from EMS for many years to be paid for prisoner transports from the jail to the local hospital, health facilities, those sorts of things. So what my suggestion is is that if we agree that we’re going to pay for those transports, then the amount of money that will pay for that will essentially provide the additional funding that they have requested from the country.”

As for 911’s request for recurring funding to add dispatch staff, Eldridge said he’s not sure what that entity’s justification is for requesting additional funds.

“They have said they needed additional dispatchers, but yet our dispatch volume has not increased.” Eldridge said. “With 911 it’s just a matter of better understanding the justification for the additional funding.”

While Eldridge has said that the upcoming fiscal year’s budget has been the most difficult since he’s been in office, the additional health care cost has specifically played a large role in the budget and budget committee discussions. And those health care costs have also affected the county’s fund balance.

“What we have had to do is during the current fiscal year that ends next week, we have had to use general fund balance to pay the excess health care expenses for our employees,” Eldridge said. “Our health care expenses have been considerably higher than what we’ve budgeted this year.”

The county is also trying to stay within their financial policies regarding the fund balance; Eldridge said the policies state that the county is to maintain four months of operating expenses in their fund balance. Due to an unexpected increase in health care costs, the fund balance is an avenue the county mayor is opposed to considering in funding the three public safety requests—leaving the county in search of a recurring source of revenue.

“As we look at these additional requests for funding, EMS, 911, the volunteer department paid firefighters, it is really important that we have a recurring source of revenue identified as opposed to just saying, ‘we’ll take that amount out of the fund balance,’ because all three of these are recurring expenses,” Eldridge explained. “We’re going to have to pay for them every year. And realizing that our fund balance is near our policy minimums, it just isn’t feasible to take that out of the fund balance this year.

“So we’ve got to have the recurring source of revenue to pay for it.”

BMA prepares for budget hearing

By LISA WHALEY

Publisher

lwhaley@heraldandtribune.com

With a public hearing set for Monday, July 3, at Town Hall, the Jonesborough Mayor and Aldermen continue to work to solidify the town’s 2017-2018 budget — focusing, according to Town Administrator Bob Browning, on accomplishing as much as they can while paying close attention to the benefits of being financially responsible in a small town.

“In the general fund, we’ve always operated with very tight budgets,” Browning stressed. “It’s sort of the nature of a small town.”

Yet it’s also one that town officials believe they have become adept at managing.

Part of that management has come from having department heads who understand the challenge.

“They don’t submit budgets that are padded,” Browning said. “The expectation is to operate within their budgets.

“The bottom line of it is we’re trying to create the reserve in the system that gives us more flexibility, but at the same time, we have to get the job done.”

What that means for the Jonesborough resident is an upcoming 2017-2018 proposed budget that currently holds no fee or tax increases.

Browning also believes that this has helped produce a town of which its residents can be proud.

“They can be confident that they have board members and staff to do a good job with the money available,” Browning said. “And nobody is talking about raising rates and raising taxes. It isn’t easy to do more with less but there is constant effort to work in that direction.”

That often means not just spending less, but looking ahead to decide the best expenditures — ones that benefit the town in the long run, he said.

“As far as the water fund is concerned, when you trying  to address budget, the issues are what are you trying to achieve,” Browning said.

Regarding water and sewer services within the town, Jonesborough has already made substantial progress and is hoping to continue in the upcoming year.

Town officials want to continue to improve byproduct measures within the system. “June testing turned out extremely well and we’re not in any violations,” Borrowing said. The town will also continue to address infiltration and inflow problems, as well as the importance of redundancy of services in case equipment must be repaired.

“What’s happened where people used to have parts in stock and additional parts, anymore anything is more or less ordered and manufactured,” Browning said. That means, he explained, it now takes two to three times longer to obtain a replacement — and the town wants to ensure the product and its customers don’t suffer in such a situation.

The public budget hearing is set for 8 a.m. in the town hall board room on Monday, July 3. For questions, visit call Town Hall at 753-1030 or visit the town website at www.jonesboroughtn.org where past budgets can also be viewed.

County OKs new school

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

School board members and the Director of Schools can break out those shovels now that the Washington County Board of Commissioners officially approved the next step for the Boones Creek K-8 school capital project.

After implementing a two-percent raise for all county employees and using the general fund balance to pay excess health care expenses, the commission finalized a balanced budget while tabling some public safety requests.

However, the new Boones Creek K-8 school capital project got an approval to physically start the project in a 21-2 vote.The resolution authorizing expenditure for the construction of the new school caps the project at $25,300,000 and ensures the groundbreaking that is to start next month.

Though the Boones Creek School capital project got the commission’s approval, the athletic complex raised as many, if not more, questions than it did answers.

The resolution to authorize expenditures for grading and other site-development work passed with votes from every commissioner except for Commissioners Robbie McGuire, Lee Chase and Steve Light—but not without a request for more concrete details on the project.

The maximum price of the grading is set at $3,420,000. Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said the project, in addition to the grading, will cost around $2 million dollars. Meanwhile, Commissioner Todd Hensley said there was a reason the plan to approve the grading for the school and the athletic complex were to be implemented simultaneously.

“It’s worthy to note that the reason this is coming at the same time as the other two resolutions is that we’ve got to move the dirt all at the same time,” Hensley explained. “So a lot of the dirt where the athletic facilities go in are going to go in the field where the school will be. So it’s two different projects but it really will happen together as one.”

The new Boones Creek School project manager Tommy Burleson said the site contains 440,000 yards of dirt and in order to balance the site, dirt from the athletic complex site will be taken to the school site. He also said design work had not been completed for the athletic complex project.

But the grading of the 37-acre athletic facility wasn’t the only portion of the plan that was discussed; Commissioner Danny Edens asked who would maintain the site once it was completed.

Though talk of entities such as the school system or parks and recreation managing the complex date back to the commission’s January meeting, Chairman Greg Matherly said a joint committee will work on the logistics of the athletic facility.

Audit shows salary increases without BOE’s approval

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

The Washington County Board of Education has been focusing on next year’s budget as of late, but at the Thursday, June 15 meeting to review the audit for the previous year, it was clear that some old messes may require some cleaning up as well.

According to the audit ending June 30, 2016, unauthorized expenditures with overages in the highway fund, the rural debt service fund and the capital projects fund were just some of the issues found by accounting firm Blackburn, Childers and Steagall, who presented the audit.

But what raised the most questions from BOE members were the salary increases that did not receive approval from the board.

The report states that salaries exceeded appropriations in 32 of 73 salary line items of the general purpose school fund by amounts ranging from $10 to $283,399. According to Tennessee Code Annotated 49-2-301, the board must approve salary increases, stating that “the director of schools can recommend to the board salaries for teachers in accordance with the salary schedule and the salaries and wages of all other employees nominated by the director of schools.”

“It’s obviously a clear violation of code that you’re not supposed to do that,” BCS Partner Melissa Steagall-Jones said during the review. “The director of schools can have great input in that, but they can’t authorize that.

“Do I feel there was ill intent in it? No I don’t. If I thought it was fraud and it rose to criminal intent, I would have turned it over to the state of Tennessee. They have seen this report and they did not question that. Do I think there was an error? Yes, absolutely.”

The Washington County Department of Education saw a new finance director and an accounting software conversion in that same year, which could have brought about an error, Steagall-Jones added.

“I think some people were surprised that some unauthorized things had been done without our approval,” BOE Chairman Jack Leonard told the Herald & Tribune. “That’s why I asked that we go back and rescind those pay increases, since we didn’t approve them. So that might be something the board looks at once she gets that information to us.”

Board members requested further information as to who the increases were slated to go to and by how much. The Herald & Tribune has made a public records request for that information as well.

Steagall-Jones said a previous finance director was one of the employees listed. She also said this could have been due to the software conversion and the extra hours the finance director had put in because of that conversion.

“With all the changes that we have had, it’s wise that we’re going and looking at it (specific salaries affected) just to be sure,” Leonard said.

“I’ve stated many times that this isn’t our money. This is the people’s money and this is money that’s been approved to be used for education and we need to be sure that it’s being used correctly and wisely.”

Commissioners consider public safety requests

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

Each commissioner at the Washington County Commission’s Budget meeting on Wednesday, June 14, knew the 2018 fiscal year budget would be a tight one—but that didn’t stop them from searching for room to add three additional public safety requests in that same slim budget.

Washington County Emergency Communications District (911) requested $74,556 to enhance dispatching procedures and staffing, Washington County-Johnson City EMS requested $206,000 request for additional staff and vehicle purchases and the Washington County Volunteer Fire Departments requested $425,000 to add paid firefighting positions to six stations. The committee unanimously agreed to reevaluate the coming fiscal year’s budget in an attempt to add the three public service requests.

This, however, comes after an almost $1 million additional healthcare cost to the budget that Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said could be even more by the following year’s budget.

“Let me share with you the reason why this has not been included in the budget,” Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said. “We’ve all experienced the difficulties we’ve had this year with the budget. We know the uncertainty we are facing moving forward with our healthcare costs. All three of these requests (from the three public safety entities) require reoccurring money—I can’t tell you where it’s going to come from.

“There is not a source of reoccurring funding that could pay for this, as desperately as we need it. The Volunteer Fire Department (request) has been probably as big a concern as I have had since I’ve been in office. It is a high priority.”

Eldridge said the county has talked about adding additional firefighters to county fire departments for at least 20 years. The proposed plan would add two volunteers who would receive stipends for the shift work they would perform to the Embreeville, Fall Branch, Gray, Limestone, Nolichuckey and Sulphur Springs Volunteer Fire Departments for $425,000.

The two volunteers added to each station would work during daytime hours Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. During the budget meeting, Fall Branch Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jim Dawson said volunteer fire departments across the county are in need of personnel hours.

“This day and age, it takes almost both people in the home with a job,” Dawson said. “It’s just like anything else; volunteerism is probably dropping more so than it probably ever has before as far as being able to go out and find people that are willing to be qualified to do the job. Every department in the county sees that problem in the day time.”

Dawson also said adding two volunteers to the six fire departments would enable the departments to assist the county should a daytime fire occur. For now, Dawson said, the departments house a lower number of volunteers during the day than the number they would need if such a fire were to occur.

“Two people are not going to be able to fight a big fire, but you’re going to be able to respond, to be able to do something which can give you more time until help gets there,” Dawson explained. “That’s the biggest thing.

“We had a structure fire the other night that Gray, Sulphur Springs and Fall Branch responded on. When we got done and I did the count on them, we had 31 people. If that had happened in the daytime hours, we might have had 10 or 12.”

County Commissioner and committee Chairman Joe Grandy also mentioned these shift-work roles could help in the survival of volunteer fire departments as the new roles could potentially bring more volunteers into the organization. Grandy also expressed his concern in trying to fit public safety requests into the budget.

“I understand our obligations, but it’s really troubling to me that we are budgeting in items that are non-profits that we could potentially spend on some public safety issues,” Grandy said. ”I think that we need to get right back into this thing, go through our budget and let’s talk about priorities. All three of these are public safety, high priority—much higher than other things in our budget.”

The committee agreed to have Commissioner and Director of Finance and Administration Mitch Meredith reexamine the budget to see if other items could be reduced. The next budget committee meeting is on Wednesday, June 21, at 8 a.m. in the courthouse conference room on the first floor.

Washington County schools see slight staff reduction

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

With a newly adjusted budget, the Washington County Board of Education is barreling through budget season.

Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton and Finance Director Brad Hale presented the BOE’s budget to the Washington County Commission’s Budget Committee on Friday June 9. The committee sent the budget on to Finance Director Mitch Meredith to put into resolution-form before they vote on the budget once again at their upcoming Wednesday June 14 meeting.

The BOE had previously presented a $1.44 million out-of-balance budget to the committee, but this time, in an effort to decrease the amount of reserve dollars used for the board’s budget each year, Hale and Halliburton came equipped with a budget that will use $1.29 million from the budget’s fund balance reserves.

Hale said the budget saw $191,000 in reductions. He also said new revenue estimates closed some of the gap on the budget and helped to reduce the allotted diesel fuel expense fund (saving $75,000), the electricity fund (saving $37,000), after school program salaries due to overestimation with the 2-percent raise for all school employees (saving $34,000) and an adjusted audit fee also saved the BOE $45,000.

The budget still included a two-percent raise for all school employees, but it also saw some cuts; Halliburton said 10 teachers (five retirements or resignations and five non-renewals) and eight to nine instructional aides’ positions would not be refilled.

“When you lose 800 students over a six-year period, you have to reduce your staff,” Halliburton said at the board’s June 8 budget meeting. “There is not a need for the amount of instructional aides.”

Halliburton also said it was up to school principals to make contract renewal decisions.

“It’s my job as director to support the principals in those decisions because, after all, we’re not in there running their school,” Halliburton said. “We had some employees that were missing as much as 35 days a school year. And given that you have the summer off, two weeks off for Christmas break and then there’s spring break and fall break — we have to have employees that are actually going to be on the job. As director, I will always support my principals in these decisions.”

During the BOE’s June 8 budget meeting, board member Mary Beth Dellinger said she’s seen push back from teachers in the community when it comes to a reduced number of instructional aides.

“I’ve had teachers call me upset about losing instructional assistants. I’ve asked the teachers which personnel they deem more valuable and they overwhelmingly responded they wanted instructional assistants over academic coaches,” Dellinger said at the June 8 meeting. “These academic coaches they currently have, they feel, are sufficient.”

Originally, the budget called for four academic coaches whose positions are designed to improve student academic skill and performance. At a previous budget meeting, the board voted to reduce that down to two academic coaches. The goal was to have an academic coach at each school, and with two added academic coaches and with some schools sharing academic coaches, each school will have access to an academic coach according to the presented budget.

“(By not adding two academic coaches) you’re going to be telling four schools, ‘We don’t value you and we’re not going to put at least a part-time academic coach in your school. But all these other schools are going to have an academic coach.’ What are you going to tell parents out in the community?” board member and BOE Chairman Jack Leonard said. “And most of these schools are in my district. It’s hard for me to tell people in Lamar and at South Central that you can’t have an academic coach. But Gray, Boones Creek and all them can. We’ve got to pull up our scores on our end of the county just like they do on the other side.”

In light of staff reductions and budget adjustments, Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge commended the board, Hale and Halliburton on the decisions they’ve made throughout the budget season.

“To me, you’re doing what you need to do. You’re taking care of your staff and you are emphasizing the priorities that are going to improve the outcomes of the school system,” Eldridge said.

The next budget committee meeting will be held on Wednesday June 14, at 9 a.m.

Group forms to counter local fluoride vote

By LISA WHALEY

Publisher

lwhaley@heraldandtribune.com

For a concerned group of regional health professionals, Jonesborough’s fluoride issues did not end with the Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s Feb. 13 vote to discontinue adding the substance to their local drinking water.

In fact, for these doctors, dentists and public health administrators, it has actually been just the beginning.

“The health department was contacted by so many individuals who were interested in the issue,” explained Dr. David Kirschke, regional medical director for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Department. “We didn’t look to form a group but it just sort of happened.”

Drawn together by a mutual concern over the possible impact in the region from the BMA decision, the list soon grew to include other such local health figures as Dr. Joseph Florence, Jonesborough resident and director of rural programs at the Quillen College of Medicine, Dr. Paul Stanton, retired surgeon, current county commissioner and former president of East Tennessee State University and Dr. David Wood, chair of pediatrics for Quillen, as well as 20 or so more professionals from medical, dental and public health fields.

They meet monthly on the campus of East Tennessee State University.

“The long and short of it is children benefit from fluoride,” Dr. Stanton explained. “It’s been shown for decades that where there is fluoride in the water consumed, there are much, much less cavities.”

“Most all of the people who are attending (these meetings) are on the same page as far as a concern over the decision the was made. And its not going to let up. In fact, it’s going to grow.”

The Jonesborough board’s February decision, passed by a 3 to 1 vote with longtime alderman and vice mayor Terry Countermine as the lone dissenting voice on the board, was sparked by concerns about the possible negative impact the chemical could have on people’s health. “The board worked very hard to provide a balanced response,” Browning said. At the crux of the issue was an issue of risk verses responsibility, and nobody could provide documentation that fluoride doesn’t hurt the body with longtime use, he said.

Implementation was originally set for July, and according to Town Administrator Bob Browning, that plan is still on track.

That means the day when Jonesborough’s water will become fluoride-additive free is rapidly approaching. And this recently formed, pro-fluoride group is currently working hard to discover a way to reverse the board’s decision.

There are, they agree, several ways to do this.

According to Dr. Kirschke, the key is really about providing accurate information. If the facts had been complete and the town had made such a decision, he said, he would have respected that right.

“But I felt like the citizens of Jonesborough made the decision based on false information,” he said. “I feel a responsibility and I would just like the decision to be based on solid, good evidence.”

Part of that evidence, proponents believe, can be found in February’s decision by the Environmental Protection Agency — released after the BMA vote — that examines in detail a petition submitted in Nov. of 2016 to ban fluoride from water.

The EPA’s final decision was in favor of leaving fluoride levels at current rates.

“I encourage you to read the EPA report,” Alderman Countermine said. “It contradicts by good scientific research what was said in the petition.”

Another key bit of evidence that didn’t get full disclosure, according to these physicians, was the issue of ingestion of fluoride and its importance.

For example, Dr. Kirschke said, “When you ingest fluoride, not only does it topically help the teeth, but it gets into your salivary glands and bathes the teeth.”

He added that seniors also benefit from this constant bath. “Actually older adults are at high risk for cavities as gums recede,” he said.

And there is so much more,  they say.

Asked why such information didn’t make itself known clearly at the meeting and public hearing held before the vote, and the reply is often that — as is the case with Dr. Bill Kennedy, a retired physician and well-known Jonesborough figure — it was hard to believe the board would make such a decision.

“I have huge respect for this Board of Mayor and Aldermen,” said Dr. Kennedy, who currently heads the Jonesborough Historic Zoning Commission. “They are in my mind certainly among the best boards in my 40 years in the town of Jonesborough.”

“I thought, ‘They’ll straighten this issue out in no time flat.’ How wrong I was.”

In all his years of public service for the town, Dr. Kennedy said, he always made it a policy to never make comments on town decisions unrelated to his role in historic preservation.

But this case, he said, things were different.

“To me, it’s going against a major victory in public health in the 20th century,” Dr. Kennedy said. “Some of them consider (fluoride) to be therapeutic from the health point of view. But in my view it is more closely related to having clean water to prevent disease. It’s akin to requiring electrical wiring up to code for safety. It’s akin to building codes for safety. It’s at that kind of level and it’s that obvious.”

Dr. Kennedy espouses a plan of action that would involve one-on-one time with board members to ensure each receives a full understanding of the facts.

“I’m hoping that they will look at the highlights of the information — I don’t expect  them to wade through all the research,” he said. “I’m hoping they will be swayed by the overwhelming conclusion and assessment of the science by the local and health community. They need to be aware of the science.”

If education doesn’t work, then other members of the group are looking into the political realm.

Dr. Johnny Johnson, with the American Fluoridation Society who faced a similar battle in Florida years ago, found that when education failed to work, a concentrated campaign to replace board members who were opposed to fluoride was successful.

“We needed up with an election which was really a referendum election,” he said. Two candidates who were more favorably inclined toward fluoride ended up replaced the two long-term board members who had voted for its removal.

Dr. Allen Burleson, a well-known Jonesborough dentist who has been at the forefront of this battle from the very beginning, agrees.

“This is about the children,” he said. “If you have children or grandchildren, this affects them.

“I love Jonesborough. I love the people of Jonesborough. But this one issue has already cast a negative aspect. If we have to get in the political arena, we will. Whatever we have to do for our children…”

Dr. Patrick Stern, a retired pediatrician who has grandchildren in the Grandview school, believes a legal course of action could even be in the cards.

“Not one time in my career in a paper, in a presentation in anything, has fluoride ever come up as toxic,” he said. But damage specifically to children in the area could be immense. And, like Dr. Burleson, he is intent on doing whatever is needed.

That’s because the cost, these health professionals maintain, is much too high to ignore.

Dr. Florence said he has witnessed the results first hand when he was living and working in rural Kentucky.

“There I saw a lot of problems with fluoride because we had lot of well water,” he said. “Part of my responsibility as a primary care doctor was to hand out fluoride to kids.

“Not everyone took it. And it was a real problem. Most of my work is done out in the rural community and I continued to see a lot of dental problem. It was the #1 issue, no question about it.

“Yeah, there are lots of ways to get fluoride, but they don’t. To me it’s a no brainer.”

As for the hazards fluoride may pose, Dr. Kennedy, Dr. Stanton and Dr. Stern, as well as others,  argue that decades of research has yet to support any realistic risk, and the majority of the medical community continues to support the proper use of fluoride.

“Some people talk about danger of fluoride,” Dr. Stanton said, “but the controlled levels they have it at is not going to do anything negative.”

“I think what we’re doing in Jonesborough is not the right thing.”

Town police face drug fund revenue decrease

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

The Town of Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen waded through its preliminary budget meeting at town hall Wednesday, May 31, but not before voting unanimously to approve the lease of nine police department vehicles the BMA initially authorized as a budget item at the May 8 meeting.

Jonesborough Police Chief Ron Street said the department reduced the number of vehicles from 10 to nine in its budget. The nine Ford Explorers will cost $274,962.12 while other equipment such as radios (at $82,144.50) and graphics for the cars (at $2,800) add up to a total of $359,906.62. The resolution that passed at the May 31 meeting also included a recommendation for either a three or four-year lease for the vehicles.

The police department is also facing a decrease in revenue for the drug fund that dropped nearly $5,000 compared to last year’s total.

“We cannot tell at this point whether there’s a reduction in the amount of arrests that are being made or whether it’s some type of bookkeeping error. I went back and looked at the last two years, the number of arrests that have been made,” Street added. “There’s only a three-arrest difference in a year ago and this year. So the numbers are still there. It could be something that the courts are not collecting. It could be a combination of things.”

Director of Public Safety Craig Ford also mentioned asset forfeiture laws—which is the legal process in which police officers can seize a person’s property if they are suspected of being involved in criminal activity—and the changes those laws have seen in Tennessee this year in relation to the police department’s decline in drug fund revenue.

“There are several things that have changed about that. The asset forfeitures, the way they used to be are no longer that way. So we don’t get that large portion of the money we’re used to,” Street added. “We’re seeing a lot of changes such as seizing of vehicles and confiscating vehicles; used to you could get them on one DUI and now it takes two (with prior conviction). So the law’s going against us in some asset forfeiture funds that’s going to cost us an amount of money to reduce.”

Town Administrator Bob Browning said that the drug fund had built to the point they were able to purchase a vehicle for the police department in this fiscal year that could also be used for the K-9 units. But now, as a result to the revenue decrease, the police department doesn’t plan to decrease K-9 expenses, but rather sustain the fund.

“We’re for the most part just going to maintain our K-9 program through the use of those drug funds,” Browning said. “We will not be looking at a capital expense like a vehicle or some other kind of equipment that might be used in the police enforcement that would include drug control.”

The department is also looking to add two new line items to their budget, however; Street told the board that Jonesborough is looking to a different policing tool to add to their tool belt that he believes could create a safer environment for patrons and police staff.

“Tasers are the new instrument in law enforcement and you’ll find doing your research that they can reduce the amount of injuries to the officers and to the public we arrest by 60 percent,” Street said. “It’s just another tool for the officers that sometimes keeps them from getting hurt and sometimes keeps them from hurting an individual out there.”

The tasers would cost $14,400, but Street said a the cost should be offset by a recent employee retirement.

Street also said the department has 18 outdated sets of body armor and is asking for $8,000 to coincide with a possible grant that could cover 50 percent of the cost.

“Traditionally what’s happened is the reserves force, which is very instrumental and very helpful to us, has always got hand-me-downs,” Street said. “They’re using the bulletproof vests now that are by far way out of date. Our plans are to update that.”

Community questions Gray School teaching changes for next year

Gray School parent and Bristol Motor Speedway Vice President Ben Trout addressed the board along with Gray School athletes in opposition of the transfer of the school’s teacher and coach, Jennifer Taylor.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

Two Washington County teachers have received notice that their positions will change at the start of next year’s school year, but during the Washington County Board of Education’s June 1 meeting, the board received notice of the community’s outrage over one teacher’s non-renewal and another’s transfer within the school system.

Before parents and students alike took to the podium to address the board, Washington County Attorney Tom Seeley prefaced the community’s concerns with clarification as to who is able to make any further decisions regarding the contract renewal of Gray Elementary School’s music and drama teacher, Stacia Howard, and the transfer of Gray Elementary School’s physical education teacher and coach, Jennifer Taylor.

“With regards to placement, non-renewals and transfer of teachers and administrators, that is in sole discretion of the director. So this board does not have authority to make decisions regarding transfers and non-renewals,” Seeley said. “I just want to make that clear to the board. I think there may be a little bit of confusion—the public may have a misconception based on the situation we had with the tenured teacher. That’s a statutory process that comes before this board where the board does have that authority.

“But with non-renewals and transfers, again, that lies solely within the discretion of the director.”

Howard, who received a letter stating that her contract would not be renewed on the last day of the school year—the last day of her fifth and tenure year—told the board and Director of School Kimber Halliburton she was perplexed by the non-renewal decision. After saying that her evaluation scores were excellent and that she had never been reprimanded during her 19-year teaching career, Howard asked the board for answers.

Stacia Howard addressed the board regarding her contract non-renewal after receiving notice of the change on the last day of this school year.

“The evidence would suggest that my non-renewal couldn’t be based on my evaluations and teacher effect scores. Likewise, I don’t see a substantial cost savings as a plausible reason due to the fact that I will have to be replaced. Therefore I am at a loss to understand the reasoning behind this decision,” Howard said. “I do realize that even though this occurred on the last day of my fifth and tenure year, there is no requirement that I be given a reason. Regardless of this fact, I feel that the board should want and be giving a reason for this seemingly illogical action. I request that Mrs. Halliburton and the board weigh the reasons against the five-year evidence of my performance record and please re-evaluate this decision.”

Tennessee Code Annotated 49-2-301 says the director of schools has the duty to authorize each principal to make staffing decisions regarding administrative personnel for the principal’s school. The code also states that the director can employ, transfer, suspend, non-renew and dismiss all personnel, licensed or otherwise (apart from teachers who received tenure from the BOE) within the approved budget and existing state laws and board policies.

Coach Taylor also falls under this category in light of her appointed transfer within the school system. In addition to being a physical education teacher, Taylor is also the basketball and soccer coach at Gray School. During the meeting, Bristol Motor Speedway Vice President Ben Trout also addressed the board in question of Taylor’s transfer.

“For 12 years, Coach Jennifer Taylor has poured her heart and soul into making our kids better. She teaches, she coaches, she participates and she does it with a passion,” Trout said. “And yet, she’s being removed for nothing better, from what I can understand, is that ‘we’re going in a different direction’—that’s all that was told. What’s your different direction? At Bristol Motor Speedway, when we make a change, we have a plan. So what is the plan?”

Howard and Trout both also mentioned the board’s recent budget decisions in regard to the non-renewal and transfer; during the BOE’s meeting with the commission’s budget committee on Friday May 26, Halliburton said 10 teaching positions and 14 instructional aides would be cut from the budget for the 2018 fiscal year. The adjusted budget came after numerous discussions about the county’s slipping student enrollment numbers (that resulted in a $560,000 basic education program funding loss) and a request from Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge for the BOE to balance the budget.

“We applaud your efforts in trying to get a balanced budget for the 2018 fiscal year. But at some point in time, as we’ve all learned, you’re got to reach the point to where you look at quality versus the bottom line. Where do you draw that line? What’s the cost versus the quality of taking somebody that has influenced so many individuals over a period of 12 years and say, ‘You’re being moved.’?”

The BOE will hold a called meeting to discuss the Boones Creek School plans and the board’s budget on Thursday June 8 at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Washington County Department of Education central office at 405 W College St., Jonesborough.