County receives student growth scores

Scores show strengths in literacy & numeracy, problems with science.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

The results are in and Washington County School District has now received its 2017-2018 Tennessee Value-Added Assessment Scores.

TVAAS serves as a measurement tool for student growth for each school and school district in the state. The results are not based on how students performed on state mandated tests each year, but rather how far a student has grown academically. But due to a rather complicated formula, how the results turn out is a bit of a gamble from year to year, according to Washington County Interim Director of Schools Bill Flanary.

“With value-added, I could take math teachers from both high schools, have them calculate it and I promise you the state would come up with something different,” Flanary said. “Talk to any superintendent, supervisor or any principal and, when the scores come out, you kind of hold your breath. If it’s great, you accept it. If it’s not, you just keep working.

“We don’t expect anything. We just hope for good scores because the calculation is so difficult to make.”

This year’s calculations left the Washington County School District with a four for its overall composite score. Flanary told the Herald & Tribune that he’s proud of the work put in to receive a high ranking and he attributes that to teachers and principals.

“I’ve been watching scores from my former position for a long time,” Flanary said. “We have been a leader across the region among the county systems for a decade. It’s because of our technique of teaching what we’re supposed to teach and not just what we want to teach.”

While the method has proven successful in most categories, the county is lacking in one category across the board.

A five is the highest score possible with a one being the lowest for TVAAS results. Throughout the TVAAS composite categories, the county received a five in literacy, numeracy, literacy and numeracy combined, and in social studies. However, the county received a one in science.

Of the 14 school TVAAS results recorded (Jonesborough Elementary and Boones Creek Elementary scores were not available), eight schools received a one, three schools received a three, two schools received a four and one school, Ridgeview Elementary School, received a five in the science category.

Flanary cited new science standards as a main factor in low science scores.

“The state is just about to finish two years of revamping science standards,” Flanary said. “Anytime they do that, you’re going to be behind the curve a little bit. I think everybody state-wide is taking a hit on science. I was in a meeting with the commissioner and she mentioned that science has been tumultuous, that and social studies. We look for greater scores this year.”

The interim director also said school and classroom observations of Washington County’s schools are of more importance than scores. And in turn, Flanary said, a job well done will improve the county’s scores.

“I think the evaluation of what we can observe is more important than the scores,” Flanary said. “We use a team evaluation system and as long as we know that they’re doing what they need to be doing everyday and principals are providing curriculum leadership and instructional leadership, that’s all (that’s needed).”

As for the areas in which Washington County is exceeding, Flanary said instructional coaches are a main component of that success.

“A lot of it has to do with our instructional coaches,” Flanary said. “They do what the principals would like to do if the principals had the time. They provide real instructional leadership, They’re the ones that go to the various curriculum meetings over the summer and throughout the school year to really get the details of the new standards and standard updates. They help these teachers understand them, they help the teachers pick them apart, put them to work in the classroom — that’s a lot of it.”

Though Flanary said what these schools do on a daily basis is a better measurement tool than the state’s report on student growth, he also said the figures provide a standard and an understanding of where Washington County is in “the ball game” of student scores.

“We’re competitive people. Just like at a ball game, we like to know what the score is,” Flanary said. “Even though we may know that it’s only a number and it’s only a fraction of a fraction of what we actually do, it’s a standard. It’s nice to have a five or four in growth because it just looks good. It’s great to be able to say you’re a level 5 or level 4 school and it gives us something to work on when we don’t get those high levels.”

The 2017-2018 TVAAS scores for each district and school in Tennessee are available for viewing at https://www.tn.gov/education/data/tvaas.html.

BOE looks at cutting academic coaches

Chad Fleenor made a set of motions during the school board meeting regarding instructional coaches and additional teaching positions.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

It was Chad Fleenor’s first meeting as a Washington County Board of Education member Thursday night, but that didn’t keep him from making a pair of motions regarding Washington County classrooms during the board’s roundtable discussion.

Fleenor, who is one of three new board members, made a motion to add seven teaching positions to the school system in order to address what he considers to be overcrowded classrooms in Washington County. The motion involved taking $500,000 from the school system’s fund balance reserves in order to fund the positions. The motion failed in a 3-6 vote with Fleenor, Annette Buchanan and David Hammond in favor and Phillip McLain, Todd Ganger, Mitch Meredith, Jason Day, Mary Beth Dellinger and Keith Ervin in opposition of the motion.

“We talked about class sizes. I’m concerned because they’re big,” Fleenor said. “We’re holding teachers accountable for their testing scores. If you put more people in there, to me, that’s more demand on them.”

The school system is within state requirements, which sets the classroom student limit at 25 students for grades K-3, 30 students for grades 4-6 and 35 students for grades 7-12, as listed in the board’s policy on class sizes. However, it’s still been a concern for board members.

Ervin, who was unanimously elected as board chairman at the meeting, said the previous board asked Interim Director of Schools Bill Flanary to see what he could do about reducing class sizes, specifically in K-3. After Fleenor’s motion, Flanary said a solution to that problem would most likely be a costly one.

“I talked to a teacher today who has 24 kids in her first grade class and it about broke my heart. But the solution costs $75,000,” Flanary said. “I want the smallest class sizes we can afford.”

Before making his final motion to add positions, Fleenor made a different motion — which was later withdrawn — to reduce the system’s number of instructional coaches from 11 to seven.

“I don’t see anything we can do to fix (classroom sizes),” Fleenor said. “The only thing is we haven’t had academic coaches before. I hate it because I know they do a lot for the administrators. I know there has been some real value. I know some people I’ve talked to really love their coaches.”

Academic coaches are designed to provide teachers with guidance and training to improve their classroom instruction and engagement. Five of the county’s 11 academic coaches are federally funded. However, Flanary told the board that, should that number be cut down, those people would be unemployed — and it’s no guarantee that they could be put back into a classroom.

“If this motion passes, these people are not going to have a job,” Flanary said. “They are unemployed. I will work like a dog to get them somewhere, somehow. But they are unemployed. I can’t guarantee all these people have the right certifications (to be placed as a teacher for the overcrowded classrooms). I would have to create positions.”

Ervin and Flanary both suggested changing the board’s policy on class sizes to better reflect the wishes of the BOE. Board members also suggested allowing Flanary to reduce class sizes without a motion from the nine-member board.

Meanwhile, Ganger felt that asking the director to add those reduced instructional coaches back into the system didn’t allow the director to do his job.

“We are an exemplary school. We’re a level five school. We’re doing something right,” Ganger said. “So why does this board want to now handcuff the director, making him do something that’s maybe not in the best interest of the school system right now? I don’t believe in saying, ‘We’ve got five people unemployed now. Find them a job.’ I’m a believer in letting the people do their jobs, whether it’s the director, principals, teachers, whoever. Let them do their jobs.

“If you make a motion to eliminate positions, you are handcuffing the director of schools in doing something right then and there. I’m sorry, but you are.”

Dellinger, who made a motion during a budget meeting to reduce last year’s 12 instructional coaches down to four, said she would like to see a change in how the county utilizes the coaches, saying that six would suffice. Meanwhile, Hammond said he felt it was a board member’s duty to try to address concerns, even if it means adjusting the budget.

“Board members are responsible for the budget at the end of the day,” Hammond said. “No one wants to eliminate positions. No one. Dr. Flanary said he could not find the funds. So if we have overcrowding in classrooms, who suffers? The teachers, the students. So how do we correct that if the funds aren’t there? We, as responsible elected officials, take (instructional coaches) away.”

Flanary said that should any instructional coaches be cut, he suspected they would find a position in another school system and that Washington County would lose them. Ganger said he felt losing teachers and administrators, even outside of potentially cutting positions, was not a teacher or principal problem, but a board of education problem.

“There’s a reason we’re losing a lot of teachers and principals,” Ganger said. “The problem is not with our teachers, principals or anything like that. The problem is the board of education. And we have got to fix that and let the people do their jobs.”

Next up for the board of education will be a called meeting scheduled with the new Washington County Board of Commissioners for Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 5 p.m. at the Washington County Department of Education, located at 405 W College Street, Jonesborough. That meeting will be held to discuss the Jonesborough School project.

City officials still unsure on county sports complex

Clarence Mabe and James Ellis talk over the two presented facility complex plans.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

Two options were presented last week for the athletic facilities complex slated to be built on Boones Creek Road, but the athletic facilities task force didn’t come to a decision on either plan.

The task force, comprised of both Washington County and Johnson City officials, opted to hold off on a design plan decision until all members of the task force could weigh in.

The first option includes four 300-foot baseball fields. The second option includes four 300-foot fields with Astroturf and one softball field. Ed O’Hara, the CHA Design/Construction Solutions sports market leader for the project, said the second option would cost $11.3 million. The county has $3 million earmarked for the athletic facilities complex, meaning the city would put about $8 million towards the athletic facility complex.

One concern cited at the meeting was the absence of soccer, track and football facilities in both plans. Director of Parks and Recreation for the Town of Jonesborough Rachel Conger asked about any potential plans for a football or soccer field.

“I know there’s not a whole lot of programming for soccer and football, but further down the road, if you’re going to need facilities for that, what’s the plan for that?” Conger said. “You just hate to eliminate the possibility of programming outside of baseball and softball at the school, especially a brand-new school.”

Washington County Commissioner Bryan Davenport explained that the county has one football team, one boys soccer team and one girls soccer team at the middle school level to filter into Daniel Boone High School and David Crockett High School. Clarence Mabe, who is a former Washington County Board of Education member, said a football field, track and lights for those fields were estimated at $3 million and “shoots the whole budget.” He also said the county currently has a few soccer and football fields at Jonesborough Middle School and in Boones Creek that aren’t being utilized.

“If we’re not using it,” Mabe said, “do we want to spend $3 million for it?”

It wasn’t a lack of fields that served as a concern for some city officials.

Johnson City is still considering buying the Wilson property that sets adjacent to the city’s athletic facilities at Winged Deer Park. For some, the possibility of eventually placing ballfields on that property is a holdup where the county sports complex is concerned.

“If the city of Johnson City is going to invest millions of dollars — to have to try to work around scheduling conflicts is not something I would recommend. But that’s just me,” James Ellis, the Johnson City Parks and Recreation director said. “I’ve got reservations when it’s the Wilson property verses this property.”

Ellis said having space for adult league play was the city’s main issue. He expressed concern in getting the city’s softball teams on the future fields on Boones Creek Road starting at 6 p.m. when the county would also be using those fields for county school practices and ball games. Davenport reminded the city that summer use would be no issue where the two were concerned and that the school teams finish up their season near the beginning of May.

Jonathan Kinnick, who is a Johnson City Board of Education member and the city’s parks and recreation advisory board chairman, however, said he felt the Wilson property’s location was key from the city’s park and recreation perspective.

“If we get money from the city to build fields, it makes more sense to have them right here at Winged Deer. Our first priority has always been for our citizens. It’s a win-win if we can make that work, if we’re also bringing in bigger tournaments. Is it going to pay for itself? No. Will it help? Yes. Having all of that complex together makes for a pretty big complex. All the maintenance is in one place, it cuts down on cost verses having to have separate people and equipment there.”

However, Johnson City Commissioner Todd Fowler said he felt the county sports complex offered an answer to the city’s facility woes now, rather than down the road.

“This meets our citizens’ needs next year for what we need field-wise to start right now,” Fowler said. “In 10 years, it may not. But right now, more fields would expand us out. We get to play here and we don’t have cancellations (due to the Astroturf fields).”

Fowler asked what the complex would look like without the city’s partnership. Mabe and Davenport said it would mirror the complex at Ridgeview and that there would certainly be no Astroturf.

“We’ll drop back and do the best we can,” Mabe said on the possibility of the city backing out of the partnership. “Like I said from the start, if it fits, we wear it. If it doesn’t, we don’t.”

“The way I look at it is, this is obviously not 100 percent of what everybody wants,” Davenport said. “But if you get 90 percent of what you want for 60 percent less money, that’s a wise move for us to do. If we had unlimited funds, we’d do something different.”

Director decision hangs in the balance

 

Bill Flanary has served as the interim director of schools for the past four months.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

It’s been nearly four months since Washington County’s Director of Schools stepped down from her post. Could the naming of a new director be on the horizon for the county school system?

Board member Keith Ervin, who is the newly elected chairman of the nine-member board, addressed the subject at the school board’s Thursday, Sept. 6, meeting, asking if the board wanted to make a move on a director’s contract. He mentioned that part of the hold up has been due to the state law that does not allow a school board to enter, change or negotiate a superintendent’s contract 45 days before an election and 30 days following.

“We can’t do anything with director’s contract 30 days after an election,” Ervin said. “That’s passed. Then, we have to advertise (that the contract will be discussed) for 15 days before we can do anything with a contract.”

The school system’s director of secondary education, Bill Flanary, has served as the interim director of schools for the past four months, receiving high praise from multiple board members at public meetings. However, that temporary position could become permanent, should board members choose to name Flanary to the post.

But before considering scheduling a meeting to negotiate any contract, board member Todd Ganger mentioned conducting a director search.

Ganger’s motion to enlist the Tennessee School Board Association to do the search failed in a 3-6 vote with Ganger, Mitch Meredith and Jason Day voting in favor and David Hammond, Mary Beth Dellinger, Ervin, Chad Fleenor, Annette Buchanan and Phillip McLain in opposition of the motion.

The board previously voted down Ganger’s motion to use TSBA to conduct a search for the next director of schools during the board’s June meeting. Ganger explained that because the previous director resigned within 24 months of becoming the director, TSBA will offer Washington County a free director search.

To that, Meredith, a newly elected board member, said he felt the board owed it to constituents to consider all options by conducting a search.

“One of the things I wasn’t interested in doing was going through a search process,” Meredith said. “I have the utmost respect for Dr. Flanary, but if we have a free search, I gotta second it.

“I think this group has the fiduciary responsibility to these people, no disrespect, to have the best director we can have in that position. And hopefully that’s (Flanary). But how do you know that if you don’t look?”

When asked if Flanary would throw his name in the running if a search is conducted, the interim director said he wouldn’t after already being considered for the job during the county’s last search for a director.

“I won’t participate in a search,” Flanary said. “I already did that.”

The board didn’t officially decide on a date to consider any contract negotiations, but Tennessee Code Annotated 49-2-203 (14) (A) also states that a temporary director’s position should not extend “beyond sixty 60 days following the general school board election.”

By state statute, the board will also have to announce that the director’s contract will be discussed 15 days ahead of any meeting date that involves the contract. The item must also be the first listed on the agenda.

BrightRidge offers customers piece of solar community

By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

The Board of Directors of Jonesborough’s local energy provider, BrightRidge, has elected to offer its customers the opportunity to buy into its “solar community” project.

“BrightRidge is earning the revenue stream by serving as the interconnection between Silicon Ranch, the generator in this case, and (the Tennessee Valley Authority),” BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes said in a press release.

“We are returning 95 percent of that revenue stream directly to participating customers, retaining only five percent to help cover some of the administrative cost of the program.”

Silicon Ranch, which will operate the Jonesborough-area farm, is a Nashville-based company that “is one of the largest independent solar power producers in the country,” the company’s website states.

“We develop-to-own all of our solar farm projects, and have a 100 percent track record of seeing them through from start to finish.”

Also noted on the site is that the Nashville renewable energy company counts over 120 solar farms in 14 states country-wide. 

According to the BrightRidge press release, “Those buying into the project will receive a return assuming the solar farm produces as expected.

“Customers, however, should be aware that actual production will vary depending on weather and the rate of deterioration in solar panel performance, with generation degrading as the panels age.”

For customers who choose to participate, there will be two options available.

One is a month-to-month lease while the alternative is a 20 year license. The options will provide access to 500 kilowatts (kW) of solar generation at the solar farm under construction near Telford.

For a monthly leasing example, the press release stated, “If a residential customer leases a One kW block of solar generation on a month-to-month basis, the customer would earn $413.98 over a 20-year lease period, a return of 2.87 percent. All earnings will be shown as a credit on the power bill that can be applied against any future bill.”

For the 20-year option, BrightRidge explained, “A potential 1 kW block leased for 20 years would cost $750 up front and earn the participant $863.98 over the (20 year) period, a return of 5.76 percent for the customer.”

While consumers have the option to install solar panels on their property, there are limits. “Most customers are unable to tap into solar because they can’t afford the installation and maintenance costs, their rooftop can’t support the weight, or they live in a multi-family unit,” Dykes said.

“Community solar allows customers to participate without those drawbacks and in the case of this program only, the customer can actually earn a return on the investment … this is a huge benefit to our customers.”

While Silicon Ranch is building (using McCarthy Contractors as the construction company) the solar farm and will operate it as well, the opportunity for BrightRidge was beneficial for the utility company.

Dykes said, “BrightRidge could not afford to offer this program to our customers if they were purchasing land, permits and equipment to build our own solar farm.

“However, through the joint participation of BrightRidge and Silicon Ranch in the TVA Distributed Solar Solutions program, the Board is able to return a portion of the solar revenue stream to our solar community customers.

“In exchange for its participation in the project, BrightRidge will receive 500 kW worth of energy to license its customers for 20 years under its solar community project. BrightRidge’s Board moved Tuesday to pass along the financial benefit to customers participating in the community solar project.”

The only direct investment from BrightRidge will be potentially $40,000 to construct the interconnection infrastructure that will link the Silicon Ranch solar farm to the local power grid.

Local celebs to assist in K-9 fundraising event

The bagging event will help raise funds for more dogs to be added to the Jonesborough Police Department’s K-9 Unit.

By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

This weekend promises to be a busy one for folks helping with the Paws in Blue fundraising drive. While the Persimmon Ridge Park event on Saturday, Sept. 8 will headline the effort, a Celebrity Bagging event at Jonesborough’s Food City on Friday, Sept. 7 will aid the drive for an additional K-9 team.

“We’ve got the Board of Mayor and Alderman going to participate, and the senior officers of the police force and Fire Chief (Phil) Fritts is going to participate,” Chairman of the Paws in Blue Fundraising Committee Ruth Verhegge said.

“It’s a way to get additional attention and try to get donations.”

The bagging event, scheduled for 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Jackson Highway Food City, will feature additional local celebrities, Verhegge said.

“Joe Grandy, the new mayor of Washington County, will be there. Mark Reynolds, from WJHL, will be there. Hopefully, Loki (currently Jonesborough’s only K-9 pup) will be there.”

According to Verhegge, about five of the celebs will be in the store working the bagging stations, while tables at both entrances will offer information and take donations.

She added that K-9 dogs and the training required for the dogs and their handlers routinely cost between $13,000 and $15,000 and she’s hoping this weekend raises a large chunk of that number, if not all.

In addition to the Paws in the event, Civitan Club members will also be present.

Civitan president Jimmy Rhein said, “I know there’s (going to be) two of us there, and there may be a couple more that show up on Friday. We’re looking forward to the opportunity. We’re going to have a table there.

“We’re excited about it and we’ve been a strong supporter of this project. We’ve put some money into it to help them start the program at Persimmon Ridge Park and been following it all along. I think it’s a great thing.”

Rhein added that he would be attending the event alongside former Civitan President Diego Iglesias.

While the local celebrity firepower will certainly help with the fundraising effort for the new K-9 team, only time will tell about their ability to not place heavy items on top of the bread and eggs.   

Commission bids farewell, says hello to future projects

Commissioners listen in as Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge addressed the 25-member board one last time.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

The Washington County Commission’s Monday night meeting offered many goodbyes for commissioners who would not be rejoining the new commission at its September meeting. But the county also said “hello” to joining a lawsuit involving opioid abuse.

The county approved the resolution making Washington County the latest county entity to join the lawsuit against numerous drug manufacturers. Attorney Tom Jessee, who is working in the case, said 15 counties had joined the lawsuit so far. He also added that the case is not a class-action lawsuit and would be handled in Greeneville.

“It’s a local problem and it requires a local solution,” Jessee said.

The attorney said if the team wins the case, they will receive a 30 percent fee from the county. If they lose, he said, the county owes them nothing. He also explained that the suit was designed for counties to address the problem as a “nuisance case.”

“If you’ll think about it, 50 years ago, if you wanted to close a liquor house or a house of prostitution or stop the tannery from throwing dead cows in the river, the state didn’t come down here and do anything,” Jessee said. “The county sheriff and the county chancellor court —all those entities right here in the county — had to clean up the county. It was realized the money needs to come here.”

Phase 1 of the renovations include updates to the clock tower as well as a new roof, gutters, a handicap ramp and two new side doors.

The commission also approved two resolutions involving Jonesborough courthouse renovations for the building’s archives space as well as Phase 1 of the renovations.

The archives renovation project is set at $382,500 to come out of the archives fund balance.

Meanwhile, the first phase of the exterior renovations to the courthouse come in at $1.1 million and would primarily include a new roof and guttering, a handicap ramp on the east side, new doors on both sides of the building, exterior painting and other exterior repairs.

Later the county will discuss Phase 2 of the courthouse renovation project, which will include security upgrades, replacement of the HVAC system and lighting upgrades. The courthouse renovations in its entirety are estimated to cost $2.2 million.

The commission also unanimously passed a resolution to use $1 million from the capital projects fund balance for the South Central roof replacement ($110,000), school buses ($640,000) and school technology equipment ($640,000).

Commissioner and Health, Education and Welfare Committee Chairman Tom Krieger explained to the commission that an amount for school buses was not included in this year’s budget due to doubling up on school bus funds in the previous fiscal year. He added that technology was not included in the budget due to uncertainty from the Washington County Board of Education.

“When the budget was put together, the school board had not taken a position on how those Chromebooks were going to be handled,” Krieger said.

“Were they going to be issued? Could they take them home or not? They have since have made a decision on that. The Chromebooks will be staying in the school and they will be issued to the appropriate classes at the discretion of the school board and the school administration.”

In biding farewell to non-returning commissioners — and in relation to school technology — school board member Clarence Mabe, who did not seek reelection to the board, offered thanks to the commission and a glimpse at the impact he felt the commission has offered the students of Washington County.

“One of the most important things you did was that you modernized our technology,” Mabe said. “What will the library look like in 10 years from now? What will the textbook look like in 10 years from now? You kept that in consideration and you kept us buying Chromebooks and smart boards and microphones. That is awesome because its in every classroom with every kid. That’s what I call where the tire meets the road.

“You funded the construction of Grandview, Ridgeview and now Boones Creek. You did it right. You didn’t half ass anything. I’m sorry to say it that way, but it’s true. I’m just proud of you. Thank you for loving the kids of Washington County.”

While those projects received final approval from county officials, commissioners also took a minute to give thanks to those departing the commission, which will be replaced with a 15-seat board of commissioners. Amongst those departing one last time from Courtroom 7 was Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge, who served for eight years before opting not to seek reelection.

“Through your leadership and involvement, the accomplishments of this commission have been many and, by my estimation, have been more impactful for the long term prosperity of the residents of Washington County than any other commission,” Eldridge said.

“You have displayed a vision and commitment for the future and made difficult decisions necessary to implement strategies that will yield great benefits for our children, our grandchildren — my grandchild. I think that’s exactly what you were elected to do and I am proud to have been able to serve with you.”

Speeders on Depot Street cause complaints at BMA

Depot Street has become a site for speeding.

By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

A potentially dangerous issue was broached at the most recent Board of Mayor and Alderman meeting on Aug. 13 at Town Hall.

According to Alderman Adam Dickson, “Seems like I’ve had a couple of folks, residents on Depot Street, contact me. It seems like there’s a speed issue on Depot Street.

“It’s particularly during the time frame of, I guess about 2:45 in the afternoon to about 3:30, so this is when the schools are getting out.”

Dickson addressed the board during the Aldermen’s Comments, and brought up a number of safety concerns.

“It’s been a concern (because) the school system —  and I think it’d have to be the elementary school —  is letting children off on Depot Street and so, as they’re getting off at Depot Street and walking in front of the bus,  there are cars coming by that are not respecting the bus and stopping. So that now becomes a very serious issue.

“There’s also another issue that comes up. I’m not on Depot Street every day, but I’m thinking there are children that are walking to the park. And if there are children walking to the park, again, we’ve got an issue in terms of speed on Depot Street.”

Dickson said that Jonesborough Police Chief Ron Street “has been very receptive to this and that there are officers that are there monitoring the situation, which we’re grateful for.”

Dickson added that he spoke with Jonesborough Town Administrator Bob Browning about possibly moving the bus stop/drop off to a new location. He mentioned as two possibilities the Mustard Seed Fellowship and New Street.

The possibility of putting an electronic speed sign in the area was mentioned, but Street said, “It doesn’t slow them down. It just depends on how fast they’re going.”

However, Street did say that the signs do provide clues to the time frame.

“It does tell us what time a day they’re going fast so we go back and issue citations during those periods.”

The police chief later mentioned that Depot Street was popular as a short cut to avoid Main Street and that the issue was fairly common event.

“It seems like it picks up when they’re (students) going to school and getting out of school. So I’m sure there’s some students involved in it. We write a lot of citations down there already. We still see violations. I’ve sent a memo out to the officers and talked to some just a few days ago about it.

“That doesn’t slow them down. For the last 15 years, officers have sat on Jackson Avenue catching people coming into town there at Dillow-Taylor. Sit there and still write (citations). Everybody’s in a hurry. Sometimes their mind’s off on different things and it’s not a lot of people that live out of town. It’s residents that live in this area.”

Street said that he often sends memos out to officers to work certain areas where complaints are directed and that the department does enforce speeding violations. He added that there is a stepped-up enforcement campaign on Depot Street.

However, the Chief concluded that some people just don’t pay attention to it.

“”I’ve been in this for 40 years and you don’t slow some people down. They’re in a hurry. They’re in such a big hurry that they don’t pay attention to what they’re doing.”

BrightRidge breaks ground for solar community

By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

BrightRidge broke ground on the first solar community in the Tri-Cities along with its partners, TVA and Silicon Ranch on Friday morning outside Jonesborough.

“We are near the oldest town in Tennessee and we are getting ready to put in some of the newest things that are out there as far as solar farms,” BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes remarked at the ceremony.

Officials from all three partners were present to explain some details of the project.

According to the event press release, Silicon Ranch, Tennessee’s largest solar power producer, will own and operate the solar farm while TVA and BrightRidge will purchase the power it produces.

The completed project, 40 acres of land covered with 41,000 solar panels, will provide enough electricity to power over 500 homes per year, weather-permitting.

The entire facility is expected to generate 8 million KWh per year and will produce zero carbon emissions.

“Our industry is changing and it’s changing fast. Part of that change means that we at BrightRidge want to adapt and grow with it. We actually want to be out in front. The opportunity to be involved in the solar farm, the opportunity to provide our customers a solar community that they can participate in,” Dykes added.

He also announced that 500 kilowatts of power from the project will be offered to BrightRidge customers either through a monthly license or a 20 year license.

“Many of our commercial and residential customers are unable to access the benefits of solar because they can’t afford the cost of installation, live in multi-family buildings, or their rooftops cannot support the weight of solar panels,” Dykes said. “BrightRidge is pleased to lead the way with a community solar offering that provides access to all of our customers, regardless of circumstance, so they can purchase clean power direct without the expense and upkeep of installing panels on their private property.”

The power company’s website explains the monthly option as; “an affordable means to enjoy the benefits of solar energy without a large capital investment or the hassle of installing roof-top solar. The program offers no contracts or long-term commitment. Monthly credits will be reflected on your monthly energy bill.”

The 20-year license is described as; “the benefits of solar energy without the hassle of a construction project by participating in BrightRidge Solar. Your monthly energy bill will reflect credits equal to the amount of power generated by the panels you purchased.”

The facility will be constructed by McCarthy Building Companies, who will hire between 50 and 100 “mostly local” workers, the release stated. Construction is expected to be completed by January 2019.

Roost to renovation: Historic courthouse could see upgrades

Pigeons continue to perch on the downtown courthouse.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

Renovations to the Washington County Courthouse may be coming — but the pigeons may be leaving.

For years pigeons have flocked to the top of the county courthouse on Main Street in Downtown Jonesborough. But now, should the Washington County Commission elect to move forward with phase one of the renovation project, changes will be coming for the birds and for the building in which the county conducts much of its business.

The first phase of the project will cost $1.1 million of the $2.2 million budgeted for the interior and exterior improvements and will include a new roof and gutters, a handicap ramp on the east side of the building, new doors on both sides of the building and new paint and other repairs to the exterior of the building.

“These are long overdue improvements,” Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said at the county’s Wednesday, Aug. 15 budget meeting where phase one of the project was approved. “We started on this five or six years ago. It’s a very expensive project and that’s been part of the delay, trying to figure our how to get this thing to a reasonable number we feel like we can afford and yet get the work done that has to be done — improving the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility, improving the security, doing the roof, the painting. These things have to be done.”

In addition to making minimal changes to the exterior of the building, the committee, after a lengthy discussion, agreed to continue to make sure their feathered friends perched on top of the clocktower fly the coop once and for all.

Washington County Purchasing Director Willie Shrewsbury said the courthouse used to have spikes placed under the columns on the building, but that over time those spikes have worn down, making it easy for birds to roost on the building. He also said one of the last organizations the county used to address the pigeon issue carried off 100 55-gallon drums of bird droppings from the courthouse site. He said at that time, the droppings were a foot deep.

Eldridge added that the pigeon problem has decreased over the years, partially due to a noise deterrent placed on the first level of the clock tower. Shrewsbury said the noise-maker sets off multiple predator bird signals to scare off the birds looking to make a home of the courthouse.

“We found one solution (to the bird problem) and it’s the noise deterrent,” Eldridge said. “It’s a machine. It works really, really well. But it is a constant source of complaints from the neighbors.”

Because the community has had complaints about the noise, county officials said they have shut off the deterrent for events such as the weekly farmer’s market and during nighttime hours to cut down on any disturbances.

“People have complained about everything we’ve done,” Eldridge said. “We’ve had TWRA (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency) out here to address it and we had lots of complaints about that. Everything that we have done about the pigeons, the community complains — just like we have the complaints about the pigeons.”

County officials aren’t just focused on pigeons; Eldridge said one of the main differences that could be coming to the Jonesborough courthouse is a focus on security.

Eldridge said that currently the building has 13 exterior doors and that a recent study conducted at the building suggested the county reduce the number of unlocked access to the building. Eldridge also said the county commission could also look at adding a sheriff’s office deputy back into the courthouse for security monitoring as they had in year’s past.

“One deputy can’t monitor 13 doors,” Eldridge said. “So what we’re doing here would allow one security officer to monitor both access points into the building. We’re just trying to get to the point to where we can make the improvements and be able to ensure some degree of security because with that many openings in this building, there is just no way to secure it.”

With less doors, Eldridge said it’s possible that the election commission might need to consider using another location for voting.

“Changing the security on this building is going to have everyone coming in on the main level, which is going to be a challenge for them if they’re going downstairs, early voting or precinct,” Eldridge said. “They need to look for another place to vote, I think particularly after the issues we had between the election commission and mayor elect Grandy. We need to be looking for another place to vote given that.

“The courthouse is the place the county does business and where county officials do business. The election commission, quite frankly, trying to influence the outcome of an election, that can’t be tolerated. So we need to move them out of this building.”

Budget committee to fund school system’s ‘critical needs’

Commissioners Rick Storey and Joe Grandy, two members of the county’s budget committee, listen to school system requests during the Wednesday, Aug. 15 budget meeting.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

Washington County’s Budget Committee approved the Washington County Department of Education’s five-year capital project funding requests — sort of.

At the committee’s Wednesday, Aug. 15 meeting — the last meeting before newly elected commissioners join the Washington County Commission — the committee approved $110,000 for the South Central Elementary School roof replacement project, $250,000 to purchase one small and two large buses and $640,000 for technology investments. The $1 million total will come from the county’s capital projects fund balance for what county officials called the school system’s “critical needs”.

“I think, to the extent possible, both the school board and the county commission, from a capital projects funding perspective, need to be focusing on what absolutely has to be done now,” Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said. “I think doing whatever has to absolutely be done this year, I think that needs to be the mantra for everything on this list.”

WCDE Maintenance Supervisor Philip Patrick dubbed the South Central roofing project as the most “critical item” on his list of maintenance improvement items. The school system only lacked $110,000 to have complete funding from the county (who already committed $560,000) for the South Central roof replacement project. Patrick said he plans to have the project completed by the end of next summer.

Meanwhile, technology was the only item on the five-year capital improvement plan to get full funding.

When asked about the impact the added technology has had on county students, WCDE Director of Elementary Education Karla Kyte told commissioners she feels the added technology has positively improved student testing outcomes.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you how many more students scored ‘mastered’ or ‘on track’ on tests because of technology,” Kyte said. “But it has to have impacted it.”

While the school system scored the full request for technology, the committee opted to approve $250,000 instead of $824,537 requested for school buses.

WCDE Special Projects Manager Jarrod Adams said the school system currently has seven large or conventional buses and two mini buses that have reached the age or mileage limit set by the state.

“We recognize this might be a burden for the county to have to look at giving us additional monies to buy school buses for our students,” Adams said, “but we’re talking about transporting our kids and the safety of our students.”

Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge told the committee that the county “doubled up” on bus funding last fiscal year, allocating over $2 million for buses. Mitch Meredith, the county’s financial director/budget advisor and a newly elected school board member, added that because the fiscal year and the school year doesn’t line up, there has been a time gap in funding and bus purchases.

“There was a delay in getting the financing matched up to the school year,” Meredith said. “We were budgeting based on a fiscal year basis. So we’re putting money aside for buses in (fiscal year) 2018-2019, but what they needed were funds for the buses that were coming on board in July of 2019. So it ’s a year out.

“What happened was we essentially compressed two years worth of buses financially into one year and that’s what we’re seeing in the budget for (fiscal year) 2017-2018.”

Jarrod Adams answers commissioner questions on the school’s transportation department at the latest budget meeting.

Adams said his biggest concern was having enough buses if ever the transportation department needed a substitute bus when one has to be repaired.

He also said that, if need be, the school system could get by with two large buses and one mini bus. But that would require increased inspections and, potentially, required maintenance upgrades for the system’s older buses.

“That effect would be we would have to work with the state to get a couple of our old buses that have reached that 15 year age limit inspected by the state,” Adams said, “so they could tell us, ‘Yes you can keep these buses on the” road if you do a, b, and c.’

“There’s a cost associated with it, but it’s nowhere near the cost of a new bus.”

The committee also decided to hold off on the Gray Elementary School re-bricking project, new lighting at the David Crockett High School softball field, and HVAC and electrical upgrades for Midway School. Those requests are subject to be discussed at a following meeting.

Though impending funding needs were prevalent at the meeting, Eldridge addressed what he called the “elephant in the room”, which is the Jonesborough School project.

He said the school board’s indecision on the project will cause either a “dramatic tax increase” or a “reshuffling” of the county’s capital needs.

“I can assure you with a new school board, the Jonesborough issue is not going to go away,” Eldridge said. “It’s not all of the sudden going to become a topic we once talked about it and don’t have anything to say about it anymore. It’s going to remain on the front burner until there is a resolution. I personally do not think that we need to be committing millions of dollars until the school board has figured out what they expect the solution in Jonesborough to be because it is going to impact everything from now on in this capital projects plan.

“You can’t forget about the elephant in the room. And that Jonesborough project is the elephant in the room when it comes to capital projects in Washington County until it’s resolved.”

The next county commission meeting will be held on Monday, Aug. 27 at 6 p.m. at the justice center in Jonesborough. The next school board meeting will be held on Thursday, Sept. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the WCDE central office in Jonesborough. All newly elected officials will be sworn in on Friday, Aug. 31 at 9 a.m. at the justice center.

District to rebuild bus system from ‘the ground up’

The Washington County School System’s transportation department got off to a rocky start and has see its share of mishaps in the past two years, but central office hopes to rebuild the department.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

The wheels on the bus weren’t exactly going round and round in Washington County last week — the first week of the new school year — with missed bus routes and students arriving to and from school much later than scheduled. But those at the central office say they are working to change that, along with other bus-related problems.

Jarrod Adams said Washington County Schools is building the transportation department “from the ground up”.

“I know everybody here is aware we’ve had some issues,” WCDE special projects manager Jarrod Adams said at the Washington County Board of Education’s Aug. 9 meeting. “I would honestly say that those issues are not much different from issues we’ve had in years past. Bus routes change, bus numbers change, kids move from Point A to Point B, a kid moves in and we don’t know they’re there. As a parent of kids in system, I understand the frustration.”

In addition to route issues, Adams also addressed the shortage of bus drivers in the county system during the meeting’s staff report session. Adams said two Washington County bus drivers are about to undergo training while five bus drivers have “taken some type of medical leave to varying degrees and different lengths.” He also said there is one bus mechanic on a four-week leave of absence while another recently resigned. The department also saw a retirement and a resignation on Friday, Aug. 3, just three days before the first day of school, Adams said.

That wasn’t the first of the transportation department’s woes where employees are concerned; at the July BOE meeting, multiple bus drivers attended the school board meeting with concerns and grievances in regards to the transportation supervisor who was hired after the former transportation supervisor was terminated in March of 2018. Leading up to the former supervisor’s termination last spring, two bus crashes were reported in Washington County within a two-day span. Following those incidents, reports showed that a drug screening had not been conducted for drivers in the school system since the fall of 2014.

“I think overall our transportation department is running much more smooth than it ought to be right now after delving into the issues that came to light in February and March,” Adams said. “We are basically trying to build our transportation department from the ground up on the fly.”

The department has hit its fair share of stumbling blocks since then; Adams said it was recently discovered that the school system’s bus routing and planning program, Versatrans, had not been updated in four years. Interim Director of Schools Bill Flanary also confirmed the issue at an earlier meeting with county officials. The failure to update the system, Adams said, also played a large role in the miscommunication where buses and bus routes were concerned the first week of the school year.

“When people would call us and say, ‘What bus is supposed to pick my child up?’, we get on Versatrans, which is the easiest way to figure that out,” Adams said, “and it’s not right. I don’t mind to take responsibility for that. I thought it was being done. Now I know it wasn’t and I guarantee you I’ll take care of that with (Flanary’s) support. He’s been 100 percent behind what we’re trying to do. We’ll take care of it. It will get done.”

While the department handles program issues, board members also expressed concerns for the students who board those buses.

Board member Keith Ervin asked if, when arriving late to school due to the bus mishaps, the kids are offered breakfast before having to head to class. Adams said “absolutely.”

“That is a rumor. In every school building … they get off the bus, they go straight to the cafeteria and they have the option to get their breakfast,” Adams said. “If they don’t take it, we can’t make them, but they are offered the opportunity to get their school breakfast. As a person in this school system, I take offense that anyone would ever say that we would not feed our school children.

Board member David Hammond said he had received phone calls about kids having to stand up on the bus. Adams said the school system had experienced one instance of that.

“The bus was so full there were kids refusing to sit in a seat with another student,” Adams said. “They usually, I guess, would have a seat to themselves. We are divvying up those kids so we don’t have that situation.”

Though Washington County has seen its share of bus-related issues, Adams said the Tennessee Director of Student Transportation Tammy Knipp has “lauded the progress” the county school system has made since last spring when the former director of schools, Kimber Halliburton, reached out to state officials from the Department of Safety and Homeland Security who met with the director and central office staff to help the county system improve upon its transportation services. Now, Adams said, the Washington County School System will host a regional meeting for transportation supervisors to share those ideas.

“While we’re on the front page for certain issues, a lot of the other transportation departments across the state are in disrepair as well,” Adams said. “So they are coming here so she can show them what it is we’re doing right because that’s how good our transportation department is getting. We’re not there yet, but we’re building that and I’m excited for that.”

County holds back on BOE’s five-year plan

The Washington County School System has come up with a new five-year capital improvement plan.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

Members of Washington County’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee had a newly drafted five-year capital improvement plan to study at the committee’s meeting on Thursday, Aug. 9. The plan was passed to the county’s next budget committee meeting for consideration, but out of the list of school system building maintenance upgrades, two were confirmed to be in the works as far as county funding is concerned.

Partial pay for the upcoming Boones Creek School project was confirmed by county officials to be underway, as was the re-roofing project at South Central Elementary School — sort of.

That project, as listed in the updated five-year plan, is estimated to cost the county $670,000. However, the county allocated money for the project’s previous cost, which is $110,000 short of the updated estimate.

While Interim Director of Schools for Washington County Bill Flanary asked that the $110,000 be added to the project’s allotted amount, he was informed that the county budget does not include two other, rather large items — $640,000 for technology and $824,537 for school buses.

“The Washington County budget for fiscal 19 capital project was developed with absolutely no mention of what the school system’s needs were — is that a fair statement?” Flanary said. “You said it wasn’t a part of your budget.

“We’re talking about over $2 million that the school board thought was in place that you said just isn’t there.”

Eldridge said that it was not a fair statement.

He said the county allotted two year’s worth of funds in the fiscal year 2018 budget for school buses, which is expected to cover 16 buses. Flanary said he and the central office staff would go back to get a concrete number of how many buses have been purchased and how many more are needed.

As for technology, Eldridge said a request was put in for technology funds, but that uncertainty from the budget committee on the direction in which the school board was headed served as a hold up on the funds.

“The budget committee did not budget that money because of the uncertainty of what was going on with the school board,” Eldridge said. “At the same time, the school board asked for three quarters of a million dollars for textbooks. The question was asked, ‘Are we going to technology or are we going back to text books?’ We need clarification on that. If we’re going forward on technology, that’s great. I absolutely support that.”

In April, the school system requested $751,000 for textbooks as a part of what school board members called the system’s “wish list.” During budget season, Director of Materials Susan Kiernan said the request was put in for science textbooks, which included new science standards, as well as math textbooks which were requested from the high schools.

Eldridge said the only money that has not been committed that could potentially cover some of the costs are funds set aside for the courthouse renovation. Approximately $2.2 million is planned to replace the roof, repave the surrounding area, replace the gutters and HVAC system at Jonesborough’s Historic Courthouse. Eldridge said those contracts are yet to be rewarded, but that could soon change.

There were other items that are not included in the county’s budget and did not get the go-ahead from the HEW Committee: The Gray Elementary School brick repair project was left off, as was replacing the softball field’s lights at David Crockett High School.

The school system’s maintenance supervisor, Phillip Patrick, presented the request to re-brick Gray Elementary School back in April, but the committee asked that Patrick check for the most cost-efficient option for the project. The previous five-year plan listed the project at $300,000, while Patrick said at the April meeting that a more recent estimate called for $575,000 for the project.

The school system had also recently asked for funds to replace the lights Crockett’s softball field, which was estimated at $150,000 on the school system’s updated five-year maintenance plan.

“If you can help with it, we appreciate it. If you can’t, you can’t,” Flanary said. “We just won’t play at night. The current lights are just not sufficient. More importantly, the boys baseball field is well-lit.”

Commissioner Suzy Williams added that not replacing the lights at the Lady Pioneers’ softball field raised a question of equality in male and female sports and was “a neglect to the girls portion of athletics.”

Eldridge suggested the five-year plan go on to the budget committee this month so it could be considered in light of the money earmarked for courthouse renovations.

“From my perspective, we’re going to have to consider the priorities of the school system capital needs along with the priorities of the capital needs of this building and come to an agreement to what we’re willing to do this year and what can be put off,” Eldridge said. “They have to be considered together. I do not want to go to the commission this month asking for this $2.2 million (for the courthouse) knowing we’ve got (school funding requests) hanging out there.”

School officials said they would bring updated information related to technology, school buses and the South Central roofing project to be discussed at the budget committee meeting. That meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 15, at 9 a.m. in the first floor conference room of the courthouse, located at 100 E Main St., Jonesborough.

 

Newly elected BOE members face ongoing issues, past grievances

Mitch Meredith (District 3), Chad Fleenor (District 1) and Jason Day (District 3) are the three newest members of the Washington County Board of Education.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

Next month, the Washington County Board of Education will add three new faces and welcome three incumbents back at the half-circle table in central office.

In the Aug. 2 general election, Jason Day was selected as the newest member from District 1 while Chad Fleenor and Mitch Meredith became the newest members in District 3. Meanwhile, Annette Buchanan and Keith Ervin were reelected to District 1 and David Hammond was reelected to District 3. The Herald & Tribune talked to each incumbent and newly elected board member. Meredith, however, could not be reached for comment.

For new BOE members, their role offers a chance to get started on what they see as the most pressing tasks that lie ahead. For both Fleenor and Day, that first task is one that’s not unfamiliar to anyone who has been to a school board meeting in Washington County throughout the past year and a half — the Jonesborough School project.

The Jonesborough School project is yet to see finalized plans.

The project, which was set to include renovations and additions to either the current Jonesborough Elementary or Jonesborough Middle School to form the Jonesborough K-8 School, has seen hold ups, new design plans and multiple split-vote decisions throughout numerous meetings. For Fleenor, he’s hoping to hear more about one of the last plans to be presented by the school’s architect, Tony Street. That plan included renovations and additions to the current middle school building.

“I want to make sure we sit down with Tony to make sure that this latest scheme gets answers to all the questions we have,” Fleenor said. “I want to make sure that this is something that truly is the answer to a lot of the questions and a lot of the problems that they have with Jonesborough School. I want to make sure that everyone is on board instead of just saying, ‘it’s in budget so that’s what we’re going to go with.’”

The design is set to be discussed at the board’s next meeting on Thursday, Aug. 9, which will  be the last meeting before new BOE members are added to the board. Though Fleenor said he hopes the board will hold off on a decision for the Jonesborough School until new members can discuss the decision at their first meeting (which will be held in September), Day said he just wants to see a decision made for the Jonesborough School either way.

“I’m fine if they go ahead and make the decision, if they’ll just make one. I don’t have to be the one to make it, I just want someone to make it,” Day said. “If we hold out to get the money to build a new school, I’m afraid that we may not get enough school. I don’t want to build a small school. If we build a new one, I want to make sure we have room.”

Buchanan, Hammond and Ervin all told the Herald & Tribune that the Jonesborough School is still a top priority for the board. However, Buchanan said keeping student-to-teacher ratios low in the school system is a top goal for her, while Hammond listed the search for the next director of schools as an important upcoming task. Ervin said he’d like to look at renovating schools such as Fall Branch and Sulphur Springs in the next 10 years or so.

But school design decisions, new directors and student populations aren’t all that has loomed over the heads of current board members; the board has also been seen as divided following a high number of 5-4 votes throughout the past year regarding various topics, though namely the Jonesborough School decision.

“The way I feel about it, if it’s a 5-4 vote or a 6-3 vote, that’s the way it’s going to be and we’re going to move on,” Ervin said. “I don’t want board members putting other board members down. I’m not going to play that game. We’re going to be united and we’re going to get along. If it’s a 5-4 vote, it’s a 5-4 vote.”

For newcomers, navigating the division could be a task in itself. But it’s something Fleenor and Day said they hope can be addressed in the meetings to come.

“I want to go into it immediately and try to find out what the problem is, what the division is,” Day said. “I want to be an asset. That’s one of the big things I want to do is bring some peace. Right now you’ve got two teams and I don’t want to be on either team. I just want to bring that together and try to make it one unified board where we can actually get some things accomplished. I didn’t really sign up to have a 5-4 vote every time.”

“There is a lot of division among the board,” Fleenor said. “A lot of it is just differences of opinion. I’m not going to fix that. I’m not going to align myself with one side or the other. I just hope we can all have a true conversation about these problems and talk amongst each other and really value everybody’s opinion that is going to be on there.”

The next BOE meeting will be held on Thursday, Aug. 9 at 6:30 p.m. in the Washington County Department of Education’s central office located at 405 W College St., Jonesborough. The next meeting, including new school board members, is set for Thursday, Sept. 6 at 6:30 p.m.

 

Quotes from our BOE winners

“People have been very vocal in saying, ‘this board, these nine people could not figure (the Jonesborough School) out. Let’s see what the next board can do.’ We just need to hold off and go in with some fresh eyes and we would have that in September.” — Annette Buchanan

“I think they’re all good people. I think they all love the kids. I just think somewhere along the way, it just got personal. They just need to be reminded that it’s not personal.” — Jason Day

“I’ve never blown up once or responded to someone when someone’s made a tax or blown up themselves. I’ll continue to be diplomatic and respect them, regardless of opinion. — David Hammond

“I don’t want nobody else putting my school board down. I’ve had commissioners say we’re not united and all this and all that. I’m not going to let the mayor, or commissioners, or whoever put the school board down.” — Keith Ervin

“I’d like to see everything we vote on be 9-0, but I know that’s not possible because we’re people. We’re humans. If we disagree, I hope we can agree to disagree, but at the end of the night go home and feel like we really made a difference for the kids.” — Chad Fleenor

Grandy ready for ‘heavy lifting’ as Washington County Mayor

Joe Grandy is ready to get to work as the new Washington County Mayor.

By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

While the contentious Washington County elections are over, newly elected county Mayor Joe Grandy will not have much time to take a breather.

“Now the heavy lifting begins,” Grandy said recently.

After winning the election over James Reeves by a mere 643 votes, Grandy admitted that it was “a relief to have the campaign over. Been going on for a long time.”

“Pretty tough races, the primary and the general and both of them were close,” Grandy said. “And we worked so hard all the way to the very end on both of them.”

The newly minted mayor said his first move would be to “get everybody together and just talk through any issue they have and try to get an understanding of their priorities as we begin to come together as a team.”

When asked about dealing with a fewer number of commissioners, Grandy said, “I don’t think it makes any difference. It’s less individuals to meet with and try to understand what their needs are, but at the same time in order to accomplish anything, you still have to get a majority of the group.”

Grandy said trying to solve the school conundrum would be one of his highest priorities, along with continuing infrastructure work and maintaining solid finances.

“We’ve worked on various components of infrastructure in the county and we’ll need to continue that. We’ll need to continue the quality level of stewardship and check our finances and obviously, we have one school under construction and one school project yet to be started. So, the school situation is going to be a high priority for me.”

As a former commissioner, the new mayor is aware his new responsibilities differ substantially.

“(Being mayor) will be 100 percent different. The executive piece of the government is obviously different from the legislative piece. As mayor, you’re pretty much alone and solo and have a different set of priorities to focus on.”

Grandy concluded with the recognition that progress would require cooperation.

“At the end of the day, elected officials and elected bodies need to come together in order to achieve the goals that we’ve set forth for the county.”

Grandy ready for ‘heavy lifting’ as Washington county mayor

Joe Grandy is ready to get to work as the new Washington County Mayor.

By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

While the contentious Washington County elections are over, newly elected county Mayor Joe Grandy will not have much time to take a breather.

“Now the heavy lifting begins,” Grandy said recently.

After winning the election over James Reeves by a mere 643 votes, Grandy admitted that it was “a relief to have the campaign over. Been going on for a long time.”

“Pretty tough races, the primary and the general and both of them were close,” Grandy said. “And we worked so hard all the way to the very end on both of them.”

The newly minted mayor said his first move would be to “get everybody together and just talk through any issue they have and try to get an understanding of their priorities as we begin to come together as a team.”

When asked about dealing with a fewer number of commissioners, Grandy said, “I don’t think it makes any difference. It’s less individuals to meet with and try to understand what their needs are, but at the same time in order to accomplish anything, you still have to get a majority of the group.”

Grandy said trying to solve the school conundrum would be one of his highest priorities, along with continuing infrastructure work and maintaining solid finances.

“We’ve worked on various components of infrastructure in the county and we’ll need to continue that. We’ll need to continue the quality level of stewardship and check our finances and obviously, we have one school under construction and one school project yet to be started. So, the school situation is going to be a high priority for me.”

As a former commissioner, the new mayor is aware his new responsibilities differ substantially.

“(Being mayor) will be 100 percent different. The executive piece of the government is obviously different from the legislative piece. As mayor, you’re pretty much alone and solo and have a different set of priorities to focus on.”

Grandy concluded with the recognition that progress would require cooperation.

“At the end of the day, elected officials and elected bodies need to come together in order to achieve the goals that we’ve set forth for the county.”

BrightRidge to begin broadband service

Downtown Jonesborough is part of the Phase 1 broadband plan.

By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

Local power company BrightRidge recently announced it will soon offer a local alternative product for internet, cable television and phone service.

A press release from the company on July 18 announced, “BrightRidge directors approved moving forward with an eight-year, $64 million investment to bring competition to the regional broadband, cable television and phone service marketplace.

“By unanimous vote, the board, after three years of study, agreed to move forward with a phased plan that will offer up to 10 gigabyte (Gb) symmetrical service to commercial and residential customers.”

According to the release, the final hurdle BrightRidge must jump is approval from the Johnson City Commission to enter the broadband and cable TV business. On the assumption the commission approves the request, these services should begin in the fourth quarter of 2018.

The plan involves a phased installation over an eight-year period. BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes said, “We will have to ask for patience as we will not be positioned to serve everyone in year one. By moving forward with a conservative approach, the broadband division builds cash necessary to help construct the build-out.

“A conservative approach also allows us to adapt to any technological advancements in the marketplace.”

The map shows the full range of the broadband outside Jonesborough.

The company’s proposal will be a hybrid service, utilizing fiber optic lines and fixed wireless. The fiber option will offer high speeds of 10 Gb to the more densely populated areas, while the wireless network will offer up to 75 megabytes per second asymmetrical  service to rural areas.

BrightRidge held a public hearing on Thursday, July 26, to give local residents a chance to ask questions and get information about the new service.

As the meeting opened, Dykes told the locals in attendance, “(BrightRidge board members) have spent a lot of hours over the last several years doing pilot programs, we have gone out and done interviews with residential customers, industrial customers, a lot of our commercial customers to see what they want. And this is a business they feel we should be getting into. Everything we’ve seen and studied has been resoundingly, ‘Yes, we would like to see this.’”

Dykes added that the school system in Washington County, as well as residents, were particularly interested in gaining access to high-speed internet. He believes the hybrid system would provide that internet access to hard-to-reach areas in the county using wireless, while their current network would make fiber installation in more populated areas feasible.

“In those more dense areas and around the industrial parks where we have access to our substations, we will roll out the fiber. But we will also be rolling out at the same time the wireless into those rural communities so we can get you high speed access.”

BrightRidge Chief Broadband Officer Stacy Evans explained the phased rollout as well as which areas would have access to the new service in the future.

Phase 1 in 2019 would provide fiber to the downtown Johnson City area, nine industrial parks and downtown Jonesborough. Wireless service would be offered in southern Washington County. In total, Phase 1 would give close to 8,500 customers the opportunity to the company’s internet.

Phase 2 in 2020 would provide fiber and wireless service to the Piney Flats and North Johnson City, as well as expanded wireless service in Southern Washington County.

Phases 1 and 2 would cover over 19,800 customers.

Phase 3 in 2021 would see wireless service in Telford and Piney Flats and more wireless expansion in southern Washington County, along with fiber access to the Gray area.

The first three phases would include over 32,000 potential customers.

The presentation detailed only the first three phase,  but Evans said after Phase 8 in 2026, 61,000 potential customers would have access to BrightRidge broadband services. 

Evans explained some of the technology involved in building the new network and that if new technologies are introduced, the network may be upgraded without having to redesign or rebuild the network.

“We’re building this in a way that I would call ‘future proof’.”

He also spoke to the crowd about some of the plans and options they would offer customers.

Fiber options would include 100 megabytes per second (Mbps), 1,000 Mbps and 10,000 Mbps symmetrical, which offers those speeds during downloads as well as when uploading files. 1,000 Mbps is the equivalent of 1 Gb while 10,000 Mbps is 10 Gb.

Evans explained, “You can use both upstream and downstream. You have to have bi-directional communications, it’s always talking back and forth.”

Wireless options would be 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, 50 Mbps/5 Mbps and 75 Mbps/10 Mbps.

As an example, the first option would provide 25 Mbps download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed.

For commercial wireless the options would remain the same but commercial fiber options would include two tiers, one for small business and one for larger businesses.

Dedicated access as well as private Ethernet service would be offered in the event that a business needed to connect different sites or locations to each other.

Voice or phone options would be Voice over IP, which is phone service through an IP address.

Video or TV options include an Over the Top, which would allow you to choose your own streaming provider.

While BrightRidge released some of the products and services they would soon offer, pricing has not yet been finalized.

“We can confirm that our pricing will be competitive, but the actual rates are not ready for release at this time.”

After Evans spoke to the crowd, attendees were invited to speak with BrightRidge employees and examine the service location maps to find out when service would be available for each resident.

When asked about the fiber and wireless networks coming to Jonesborough, BrightRidge Director of Public and Governmental Affairs Tim Whaley said, “We were able to do this project because there’s an underground wiring project that was already in place. We had conduit available and space available to go ahead and run this product.

“That underground wiring project left capacity to get into broadband pretty easily and run fiber right down Main Street.”

Whaley said that the wireless internet that rural areas will have available would be as fast as what is currently in the market.

Evans added that BrightRidge would install all equipment for the customer.  An antenna, “most of which range in about an eight inch diameter,” would be required.

Also required for wireless would be a device to receive the signal and transfer it to a router that would then distribute the signal to devices in the house.

While BrightRidge currently provides power to the area and will soon provide internet, phone and cable services, Whaley pointed out that “the two billings are unrelated. If you don’t pay your cable bill, it will not impact your electric service in any way.”

Best of the best: Jonesborough area attractions offer options for all

There is always something going on in Jonesborough.

By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

Whether you’re a lifelong resident of Jonesborough, a new member of our town or a potential future resident, the list of attractions is long and varied.  Living in Tennessee’s oldest town allows residents the opportunity to walk down Main Street and gaze at the historical buildings and some of the unique shops and businesses contained within. The numerous parks allow citizens access to the fresh air and trails to wander down if they wish. And the festivals held provide plenty of live music and all the storytelling they can handle. These are just a few of the highlights contained in our home, Jonesborough.

• International Storytelling Center:  The centerpiece for the Storytelling Capital of the World.  The Center brings storytellers here from across the globe during the weekend-long National Storytelling Festival that begins on the first weekend in October. Along with a modern performance theater is Jimmy Neil Smith Park behind the Center as well as a gift shop where fans can find storytelling books, souvenirs and all other items. Rooms at the Center are available for rent for weddings, business meetings and receptions.

The Storytelling Center also hosts “Storytelling Live!”, a Teller-in-Residence series from May to November. “Storytelling Live!” features 26 nationally renowned storytellers, one per week, at the Center’s theater.

The Jonesborough Yarn Exchange is a monthly radio-broadcast performance hosted at the Center that celebrates the culture, history and stories of the area. The Yarn Exchange is open to anyone who would like to participate and all ages and backgrounds are welcome. Broadcast on 89.5 FM.

The International Storytelling Center may be reached at 423-753-2171.

• Heritage Alliance/Museums/Tours: The Alliance preserves some of the historical and cultural treasures in our region and operates The Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum. The museum details the history of Jonesborough from its roots to present day and offers children’s activities and exhibits featuring photos of historic Jonesborough. The Chester Inn has been painstakingly restored to Victorian era décor and is available for tours. Located in downtown Jonesborough, the museum is on the ground floor while the Inn is upstairs. Departing from the Chester Inn on a regular schedule are walking Town Tours and Cemetery Tours.  Costumed guides lead tour-goers through downtown and detail the history of Jonesborough and Jonesborough’s historic cemeteries. Contact info for The Heritage Alliance is 423-753-9580.

• Festivals/Special Events: Downtown Jonesborough is host to a number of events that draw in the crowds. Chocolate Fest is held around Valentine’s each year and features homemade chocolate treats for your special someone along with sweets-related contests and activities. Scoop Fest will be held on Aug. 11 this year and will feature over 30 flavors of Blue Bell ice cream to help cool off in the summer heat. Jonesborough Days puts a local spin on July 4 with a parade, fireworks, local vendors, music and all sorts of activities for all ages. Held on the weekend closest to July 4, this patriotic weekend brings out the best of Jonesborough. A more regular occurrence downtown is the Main Street Brews and Tunes shows held on the plaza at the International Storytelling Center. Shows every Sunday during summer highlight craft brews and local tunes. Another musical event held every Friday throughout summer is Music on the Square. Main Street is turned over to music fans while an eclectic range of bands plays in Courthouse Square. MOTS runs from May through September and guests should bring a chair with them. Information on the above events can be found at the Main Street Jonesborough Facebook page or at 423-753-1010.

• Jonesborough Repertory Theater: Anyone interested in the arts should make time to take in a play at the JRT.  The Theater offers a year-round schedule of comedies, dramas, musicals and dance numbers that will entertain all theater buffs. Call the Jonesborough Visitors Center at 423-753-1010 for information and tickets.

• Jonesborough Farmers Market: Located on the east side of the courthouse every Saturday morning from 8 a.m. until 12 p.m. from May to September and 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. in October. Supplying freshly-grown local veggies, bakery items, meats and cheeses, the farmers market also features live music on Saturdays. Breakfast is also available as well as gardening crafts for purchase. Information available at 423-458-2122.

• Wetlands Water Park: If the summer heat starts to get too intense, a trip to Wetlands is certain to provide relief. Offering rides such as a lazy river, water slides, a rain tree and more, this water park will keep the kids happy. A full service café can replenish any lost energy and offers tubes and lockers for rent. Information available at 423-753-1553.

While we have highlighted some of the attractions the Jonesborough area can offer, there is so much more to be discovered. The Jonesborough Visitors Center can provide all the information anyone could need and may be reached at 423-753-1010.

As amazing as the area attractions are for both residents and visitors, the most important and amazing feature around is the people of Jonesborough.

Bill Lee visits Jonesborough amid early voting

Bill Lee shakes hands at the Corner Cup.

By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

Another candidate for Tennessee governor stopped by Jonesborough Monday morning, speaking to residents at the Corner Cup.

Lee, a “third generation cattle farmer” spoke about the desire of Tennesseans to have “a good job, a good school for their kids, and a safe neighborhood. That’s what matters most to every Tennessean,” Lee said.

“And while we are a remarkable state … we do have some challenges. We have 15 counties in poverty in the state, as designated by the federal government. And every one of them is rural. I can’t rest until everybody at least has access to the opportunity for a good job.”

He also spoke about how the tragedy of losing his first wife changed his outlook on life. “This was the most tragic season of my life but clearly the most transformative. You sort through what matters and what doesn’t matter.”

Lee, who is chairman of Lee Company, believes that his status as an “outsider” will be beneficial to the state. “I’ve never run for office at all. People talk about being an outsider. I am truly an outsider.”

He added that as a businessman, “I run a company of 1200 skilled tradespeople. It’s critically important that we understand that this state can create an environment where employees can thrive. It won’t be the government changing jobs, the government doesn’t do that but we can do it if we have leadership from the outside that’s willing to break the status quo.”

During a question and answer session, Lee spoke about education and how he believes it “is the most important component of change. If you have a good education then you probably are going to get a good job.

“We have ignored vocational and agricultural education for decades in our school system. And it’s time for that to change … the most fundamental change I would make in education is to reinstate in a modern and relevant way, vocational, technical and agricultural education in our schools.”

Another focus of Lee on education was “to create an environment, especially for our teachers, to thrive. Teachers are where the rubber meets the road. We need to attract the best and brightest by having the right kind of teacher programs, and we need to create an environment for teachers to thrive. That includes reinstating some elements of our education that we’ve gotten rid of, civics education, character education. That makes it easier for our teachers to do what it is that they do.”

Lee was also asked about lowering the crime rate and he said that recidivism of prison inmates is a factor. Lee said that he became involved in a program that worked with inmates to reduce the likelihood of a return to prison.

“So ‘Men of Valor’ has a 15 percent recidivism rate, a return rate to prison, instead of 50 percent, which is what the Department of Corrections has … we need to look at an organization like that and say ‘Whatever they’re doing, that needs to be happening in the DOC’. And we need to have the political will to make certain that what they’re doing is happening in the DOC. That’s how we will reduce crime.”

He added that utilizing alternative sentencing, drug courts, mental health and veterans courts in the sentencing of non-violent offenders would help.

“To not put people in prison that don’t really need to be in prison but need to serve a term, that’s sentencing reform that’s smart.”

School board candidates address county’s top issues

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

In the July 18 edition of the Herald & Tribune, a response from six of the nine candidates running in the Washington County Board of Education was printed to better inform readers before heading to the polls for early voting. Below are the remaining candidates who answered the following question: “In your opinion, what is the most important issue related to the Washington County School System and how do you plan on addressing it?”

Each candidate was asked to respond to the question using 250 words or less. Any remaining candidates who respond to the Herald & Tribune will be published in next week’s edition. To see how the first set of school board candidates responded, pick up a copy of the July 18 edition of the Herald & Tribune or go to https://www.heraldandtribune.com/local-news/school-board-candidates-address-countys-top-issues/.

Donald Feathers, District 3

I feel that the most important issue facing Washington County at this time is funding. I feel that in order for our teachers to do the best job they can we need to make sure that there is enough money per student for them to accomplish this. I would encourage our board to constantly be looking at every opportunity to seek out any and all funding upgrades that may come available. I would also encourage our faculty to go after and apply for any and all grants that they may come upon to also increase their individual classroom resources. Our students and their education is the most important priority of our county, and thus our teachers deserve every opportunity and every right to be properly funded to ensure that our students receive this education.

Trevor Knight, District 3

When asked what’s the MOST important issue, I think it’s important to step back and see the big picture, the whole picture. With the nightmares in the news, our main concern should be every school system’s main concern — SAFETY. To prevent violent or active shooter situations, I attend to ensure every school has an active SRO with no sharing between two or more schools. More intensive measures will be considered. In addition, common sense says and parents talking to me show there’s a problem with bullying. I want to determine what we are doing to manage bullying and may install some anti-bullying training for students and staff. Keeping kids safe on the way to school is just as important, measures will be seriously investigated including drug testing and vetting bus drivers, the need for seatbelts, etc. Overall Safety may not be the most popular topic for our county right now, but it should be the highest priority. Having an open mind and being willing to work together is essential for school board members; certainly we can all agree on keeping our kids safe!