School board candidates address county’s top issues

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

Early voting is underway in Washington County and the ballot includes nine candidates aiming to clinch one of six seats as a Washington County Board of Education member.

To better inform readers, the Herald & Tribune asked each candidate 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. The following candidates responded to the Herald & Tribune by press time. Any remaining candidates who respond to the Herald & Tribune will be published in next week’s edition.

Kerrie Aistrop, District 1

In my opinion, one of the biggest issues with our school system is the relationship between school board members and county commission. This large issue has caused many issues with funding for school security, teacher raises, bus driver raises, technical schools and capital projects. To be an effective board member, you have to put your personal feelings and agendas aside. You have to come together and put student safety and education first.

If I am elected, I will strive to make every effort in voting for students and teachers, not myself. When we all work together for the kids, we can create a school system that can be safe, and create a future for these kids.

Annette Buchanan, District 1

There is certainly not one main, important issue facing our county at the present. We have many issues at hand. One of the issues I feel is important is teacher/student ratio. For the teachers to be effective and our students to succeed, we must keep the classroom numbers low. I have shared this concern with the interim director of schools and will continue to voice my concern in the future. Another issue is unfunded mandates from the state. I would like to express to the law makers what a strain it puts on our budget. I also hope that I can be a part of forming a new, healthy relationship with the commission, reaching out on a regular basis and communicating with each other on a professional level.

Jason Day, District 1

In my opinion the most critical issue facing our school system today is the security of our children. As a father of four I have learned that our most precious possessions are our children. They are the future of our community and of our nation. They deserve the ability, not just the ability but the right, to learn in a safe environment, an environment that allows them to flourish as individuals and to meet their true potential.

Fear has become a real problem in the society we live in today, and I hope to eliminate that fear from the hearts and minds of our children in the school and in the classroom. We take for granted that the rural area we live in is a place where the evil deeds we see in other areas cannot and will not happen. One violent act is one too many and has the potential to destroy the fragile heart of a child. Therefore, I would recommend increasing the security on every campus, starting with a full time SROs in each of our schools, increased security and surveillance on campus grounds, and active shooter training for our staff. I would also implement a partnership with local law enforcement in the tragic event that a dangerous scenario unfolds. There would be many important improvements I would love to see and safety education and awareness outside our classroom for our kids is another. Education is important, but education without safety is a chance I am not willing to take

Chad Fleenor, District 3

The biggest issues we have are the Jonesborough School and the bus drivers. First, the Jonesborough school, it’s definitely time we fix the sewage issues and update what they currently have. I have seen the six different proposals. I would like to get the costs down and get the McCoy property so we aren’t landlocked. If we can’t get what we need under our cost, then we need to build in phases. We can’t build something just to get it under budget and not get our needs met.

Secondly, our bus driver situation. It’s clear that more than half of our drivers are unhappy and upset. I haven’t heard each individual story, but when almost half come to a board meeting, it’s clear there is a problem. I would let them have a voice, and then recommend  Interim Director Dr. Flanary fix the problem. They are the first ones most of the kids see in the morning, and we trust them with our children’s lives. It’s an important job! I would be honored to serve our community as a school board member.

David Hammond, District 3

There are many pressing issues facing our school system from capital projects (including Jonesborough School) to funding unfunded state and federal mandates. 

The issue of selecting a permanent school director will face the new school board in the upcoming months.

If returned to the board, I will strive to make sure the individual is accountable to, not only the board, but our entire community. The next director must have an open door policy for ALL and promote the entire system. 

I will strive to make sure the next director focuses on vocational programs as well as college-ready programs.  Vocational school funding and up-grades to prepare students to be career ready is a pressing issue. 

I will do everything I can to make sure the next director is more about promoting our students, staff and school system than promoting their career.  People first, promoting our system, and implementing board policies should be the director’s focus, not politics.

Mitch Meredith, District 3

There are many important issues — declining enrollment, substandard teacher pay, substandard classroom environments, workforce preparedness/economic development, County Commission relationship and state testing requirements. But the overarching issue is our Board’s lack of a shared strategic vision. It must be defined with one-year, five-year and 10-year goals. We need to know where we are going so we can begin to make the tactical decisions that will get us there. For example, as a County Commissioner, I fully supported the Washington County Board of Education’s commitment for classroom technology enhancements (audio systems, Cleartouch panels and one-to-one use of Chromebooks) by voting to provide additional technology funding.

I also helped craft a plan that would meet the BOE’s capital needs for the next 10 years, including the Jonesborough schools. Four years ago, the BOE had a plan to correct the problems at Jonesborough. That plan changed. Then changed again. And now it is still undecided with six different versions. All the while, costs have escalated and children have been negatively impacted. I am the only sitting county commissioner ever to relinquish his seat to serve on the BOE. I understand the commission’s concerns and believe I am the best choice to help bridge the gulf that has developed between the two elected bodies. Facing a stagnant tax base, the BOE, administration and commission must work together to provide exceptional educational value and economic prosperity to the taxpayers of Washington County. The taxpayers of Washington County deserve nothing less.

***

Early voting started on Friday, July 13 and will continue through Saturday, July 28. Early voting is held Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. The general election and final day to vote will be held on Thursday, Aug. 2.

For more information go to http://wcecoffice.com/

Grandy and Reeves square off for County Mayoral Race

By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

Election time is fast approaching, and the final two candidates for the Washington County mayor’s office are racing towards the finish line.

The candidates for the Washington County mayoral race are Republican Joe Grandy and Independent James Reeves.

Joe Grandy, Republican candidate for mayor, wants to finish the tasks he began to improve the county.

Joe Grandy was elected to the Washington County Commission in 2010 and is currently the chairman of the budget committee.

“I’ve lived here for 33 years, and am a local businessman. I opened up a Ferguson Enterprises branch, started with seven people and built the business to over 80 people,” Grandy said recently. “I’ve been on the Johnson City/Washington County Regional Planning Commission, (have) been on all sorts of different boards.”

While he has been on the commission for eight years, Grandy said he still has unfinished business he would like to see complete.

“I want to see some of the things we instituted in the last three to four years implemented. And really, for me, it’s always been about service. Whether it’s about service for our customers of the business, or whether it’s service for some non-profit organization on which I’ve served,” Grandy said.

“I just want to be able to continue my opportunity to serve Washington County in a larger and unique way as I’ve been able to wind down my business career.”

The biggest issue facing the county, Grandy believes, “is the lack of growth. So we just need to develop our young people and train them in work-related job skills so that we have a solid workforce of folks here in Washington County to attract some businesses that will help our county grow.

“One of the things that we know is about 75 percent of all new job creation comes from existing business. So I definitely will have a focus on our existing businesses and trying to help them grow and expand and create employment opportunities for the folks that are here.”

Having spent 33 years running a local business, Grandy said the experience in that role has prepared him for the office.

“I think I’m uniquely qualified based on my business and leadership. I’m a leader for a successful business for a number of years. I’m going to provide leadership and stewardship to the citizens of Washington County in my role as mayor.”

James Reeves, Independent candidate for county mayor, wants to restore trust.

Grandy’s opponent, James Reeves, is a Johnson City resident and, according to the biography on his website, opened Reeves Alignment and Auto Care over six years ago. Before opening his business, Reeves was in the U.S. Air Force and was employed as an auto mechanic for 30 years.

While he has not served in public office, he has run for the county mayor’s office previously, in 2010. He has also been a very frequent attendee of county meetings.

“As far as county politics, I’ve been pretty entrenched in going to commission meetings and things like that for about 12 years now. One of those common faces that … go in there and speak the truth and I’ve gained a lot of respect from a lot of different people over those years.”

Reeves started a petition drive in 2007 to put the wheel tax on the ballot.

“Twelve years ago I helped fight back the wheel tax in Washington County. I started the petition and we got all the signatures and got it turned in and on the ballot and we got it voted down.”

Reeves is also no stranger to political conflict.

According to his bio, “In 2016, James Reeves, in speaking against a proposed $0.40 tax increase for Washington County, was escorted from the courthouse fighting what he considers to truly be a slush fund for the politicians in charge of the county.”

Reeves believes what makes him stand out “is truth and honesty. And I’m a regular, working guy. I’ve owned my own place in Tennessee here for seven years now. And I do everything from the taxes, to writing the checks, to working on the cars.”

Asked about which issues were most important for the county, Reeves stated, “I think if we can put trust back in the government, no matter what county, city or federal level. You make employees that are working for the county and the school system happy. That drains into other people and your growth can be self-created by just us all getting along as a community.”

Early voting began on July 13 and will end on July 28. Election Day is Aug. 2.

Doggone it! Jonesborough is getting a dog park

Randy Boyd and wife, Jennie, along with local dog “Pete” present the town with a $25,000 check.

By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

Jonesborough residents will soon have a dedicated park to let their four-legged canine friends roam free. 

The Town of Jonesborough was recently awarded a $25,000 grant for the construction of a dog park by the Boyd Foundation, an organization started by Tennessee gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd.

Friday afternoon in front of town hall, Randy and Jenny Boyd presented the Town of Jonesborough with a large check amidst a crowd that included humans as well as canines.

“I want to say one really important thing and that is ‘Congratulations!’ “ Boyd told the audience. “There were 50 different cities across the state that were competing for these grants. So you won this, you earned it. It wasn’t something that we did just because we like you, even though we do like you!”

“We love it here,” he continued. “We were so excited when we saw the selection process and saw that Jonesborough was one of the winners. So I just want to say congratulations to Rachel Conger (Director of Parks and Recreation), to Mayor (Chuck) Vest and everybody that had a role in getting this done.”

Boyd’s Foundation funded a program called “The Tennessee Dog Park Dash,” which is dedicated to building or improving dog parks throughout Tennessee. Begun in 2018, the program goal is to turn the state into the “most pet-friendly state in America”, according to the Dog Park Dash website.

Jonesborough Mayor Vest, who was present to accept the oversized check, said, “This grant that Randy and Jenny (Boyd) have been so nice to award to Jonesborough will go a long way to helping us establish a first-class park. Everybody that knows Jonesborough, when we do a park, we do it right.”

Plans currently have the park located on three acres of property off State Route 34 on the west end of town. Amenities will include an interactive water feature for dogs, seating areas, fenced off areas for smaller dogs and larger breeds and landscaped areas where dogs can run without being leashed.

The goal of turning Tennessee into the most pet-friendly state in the country began over 10 years ago, Boyd explained.

“I went to a Petsmart charities event. It was one of those typical charitable events. They had a big banquet at the end, and the president (of the charity) gets up to speak. There’s about 50 company CEOs in the room. I’m the only one from Tennessee.

“And the president of the Petsmart charity says, ‘We’ve made a lot of progress for animal welfare all across the country this past year. But we still have work to do. You know there are still backwaters in the country. Places like Mississippi, Louisiana and ‘You guessed it,’ … Tennessee.’

“I don’t know if it was true, but it felt like every eye in the room looked at me.

“And we did some research and it turned out that statistically, they were right. I didn’t want to run from it so we decided to own it and fight back.”

Boyd said they began with the goal of making Knoxville the most pet-friendly place in the country. His company, PetSafe, also began a program in 2011 called “Bark for Your Park”, which provides funding for 13 cities across the country to build dog parks or improve their current parks.

Last year the Boyds decided to begin funding parks for communities in their home state of Tennessee through the Boyd Foundation.

“It’s $1 million a year for this year, next year and the year after. This was our first year and we’re just so excited to be able to offer grants to folks that we know,” Boyd said. “Places like Jonesborough, where Jenny’s going to probably have a house one day.”

The candidate for governor believes that dog parks are beneficial, not only for dogs, but for their human companions as well and can bring folks together.

“The great thing about dog parks is it’s not just for the pets, but it’s also great for people and to build community. In this world today, we have a lot of division and strife. We need ways to bring people together. A dog park does that,” Boyd said.

“When you go to your dog park after it opens, go to the bench and you’ll see young people and old people sharing a bench. You’ll see black and white. You’ll see rich and poor. Even, on occasion, you’ll see a Democrat and a Republican on the same bench enjoying their dogs.”

McKinney announces fall classes

Young and old will delight in activities in this fall’s McKinney Center classes.

From STAFF REPORTS

Kicking off their fifth year offering arts education classes, The McKinney Center and Jonesborough’s Mary B. Martin Program for the Arts has just announced their fall schedule.  Hands-on classes will teach various skills that are led by experienced instructors and are fitting for various ages and ability levels.

A Fall Open House will be held at the McKinney Center on Aug. 11 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  This will be an opportunity for the public to see what the fall classes have to offer. Faculty will be present for questions and demonstrations. The last day to register for classes is Aug. 18. Those registering between now and Aug. 11 will earn an Early Bird Discount of $10 off per class.

Full descriptions of class offerings can be found online at www.mckinneycenter.com or by stopping by the McKinney Center, Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., to pick up a catalog.  For additional information contact the McKinney Center at (423) 753-0562.

BMA retains employee plan, keeps tax rates steady

By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

The Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted Monday to retain the same compensation plan for town employees as well as maintain the same rates for property taxes, water and sewer taxes and garbage collection fees in the 2018-2019 Town of Jonesborough budget.

While the BMA elected to keep the town’s compensation plan, which is an across-the-board 3 percent increase, an amendment was added to explore additional opportunities for town employees to improve compensation in the future. There was concern from some members that increasing compensation by percentages across the board would lead to an increasing pay gap between those at higher salaries and those at lower salaries.

“It was my goal to improve the pay of the town employees making less than $42,000 and to reduce that increasing pay gap we have between the field and administration,” Mayor Chuck Vest said. “To do that we must in a small way change the way we compensate our decision makers. I’m a firm believer that to bring change you must first plant some seeds and that’s what we did last night in our discussion.”

Vest suggested an across-the-board dollar increase as opposed to a percentage “to close that gap between the top and the bottom.”

The mayor acknowledged that a flat dollar increase would mean less compensation for those on the high end of the payscale.

“It is not my goal to see anybody harmed in any way or earn less.”

Alderman Terry Countermine added, “We need to come up with a plan that works with the plan we have, but gives employees a chance to earn more money by improving themselves and making themselves more valuable in the positions that they are.”

Alderman Virginia Causey cautioned that changing the compensation plan at this time would rush the process and was in favor of moving forward with the plan currently in place while allowing town staff time to evaluate any new plans for the following year.

Aldermen Adam Dickson and David Sell felt that the current plan was adequate and Dickson pointed out “We’ve received two documents from town staff being rather clear that they’re recommending that we not make any alterations to the plan.”

After much discussion on the issue, Operations Manager Craig Ford informed the board that one option included creating programs that would allow employees to reach certain incentives.

“It gives those individuals an opportunity to do some things on their own initiative,” Ford said. “We can look at those things, there’s so many classes, even in the street department as an example. There’s so many OSHA classes with flagging and trench safety … you can write incentives on any position description we have here.”

Causey made a motion to approve the compensation plan as written. The motion was seconded by Countermine, who added an amendment to have town directors document different options for their departments that would provide incentive opportunities.

Causey accepted the amendment and all aldermen voted in favor of the motion.

Browning added later that they were “going to work on creating opportunities for employees that want the opportunity to better themselves or learn more skills in their area of expertise.”

The BMA also approved Jonesborough’s property tax at the same rate with no change, $1.3105 per $100 of assessed value on all real and personal property.

Water and sewer rates were approved at the same rate with no changes.

Inside Jonesborough city limits, the minimum monthly billing for the first 1,000 gallons remains $16.50, while the sewer rate for the first 1,000 gallons is $20.63.

Outside Jonesborough city limits, the minimum monthly billing for the first 1,000 gallons also continues at  $27.50, while the sewer rate for the first 1,000 gallons is $34.38.

Garbage collection rates also stayed unchanged at $15.50 per month with a $2  discount for residents that recycle. The price for one dumpster being picked up once per week is $90 per month.

Early Voting starts this week in Washington County

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

It’s voting time in Tennessee. And with early voting running from Friday, July 13, through Saturday, July 28, Washington County citizens have quite a few choices to make.

Voters will have the chance to choose six Washington County Board of Education members — three from District 1 and three from District 3.

In District 1, incumbent school board members Annette Buchanan and Keith Ervin will vie for reelection while Jason Day and Kerrie Aistrop will seek election for a spot on the board. In District 3, incumbent school board member David Hammond will seek reelection while Donald Feathers, Chad Fleenor, Trevor Knight and Mitch Meredith will run for a District 3 seat.

Voters will also have a list of commissioners to choose between.

While eight of the 15 districts’ candidates are running unopposed, incumbents such as Steven Light, Danny Edens, Larry England, and Suzy Williams will run against a candidate for reelection while newcomers such as Tracy Hicks, Jerome Fitzgerald, Isaac Moore, Brandon Bates, P.C. Snap, Freddie Malone, Pat Collins, Dennis Prater, Jim Wheeler and Ralph Van Brocklin will run for a spot on the commission.

As for the county mayor’s race, voters will chose between Republican candidate Joe Grandy or Independent candidate James Reeves.

Other categories include county trustee, sheriff, circuit court clerk, county clerk, register of deeds and juvenile court judge, which all contain unopposed candidates.

But the election doesn’t just concern local politics; the general election will also decide the next governor, senate, Tennessee House of Representatives for District 3 and District 6, a State Executive Committeeman and Committeewoman for District 3 and an attorney general for District 1.

Early voting will be held Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Any absentee ballot request forms must be in the Washington County Election Commission Office by Thursday, July 26. For more information, visit http://wcecoffice.com/.

***

The following candidates will be listed on the Aug. 2 Washington County General Election ballot:

Washington County Mayor:

• Joe Grandy, Republican

• James Reeves, Independent

Commission District 1:

• Steve Light

• Tracy Hicks

Commission District 2:

• Kent Harris

Commission District 3:

• Jerome Fitzgerald

• Isaac Moore

Commission District 4:

• Danny Edens

• Brandon Bates

Commission District 5:

• Bryan Davenport

Commission District 6:

• Greg Matherly

Commission District 7:

• Larry England

• P.C. Snapp

Commission District 8:

• Freddie Malone

• Pat Collins

Commission District 9:

• Suzy Williams

• Dennis Prater

Commission District 10:

• Phil Carriger

Commission District 11:

• Jodie Jones

Commission District 12:

• Robbie Tester

Commission District 13:

• Gary McAllister

Commission District 14:

• Jim Wheeler

• Ralph Van Brocklin

Commission District 15:

• Mike Ford

County Trustee:

• Rick Storey

Sheriff:

• Ed Graybeal

Circuit Court Clerk:

• Brenda Downes

County Clerk:

• Kathy Storey

Register of Deeds:

• Teresa Bowman

School Board District 1:

• Kerrie Aistrop

• Annette Buchanan

• Jason Day

• Keith Ervin

School Board District 3:

• Donald Feathers

• Chad Fleenor

• David Hammond

• Trevor Knight

• Mitch Meredith

Washington County Mayor:

• Joe Grandy

• James Reeves

Juvenile Court Judge:

• Sharon Green

Governor:

• Diane Black

• Randy Boyd

• Beth Harwell

• Bill Lee

• Basil Marceaux, Sr.

• Kay White

• Karl Dean

• Craig Fitzhugh

• Mezianna Vale Payne

United States Senate:

• Marsha Blackburn

• Aaron L. Pettigrew

• Phil Bredesen

• Gary Davis

• John Wolfe

United States House of  Representatives District 1:

• Mickie Lou Banyas

• James Brooks

• Todd A McKinley

• Phil Roe

• Marty Olsen

Tennessee Senate District 3:

• Rusty Crowe

Tennessee House of Representatives District 6:

• Steve Darden

• Micah Van Huss

Tennessee house of Representatives District 7:

• Matthew Hill

• Nathan Farnor

State Executive Committeeman District 3:

• Todd Fowler

State Executive Committeewoman District 3:

• Sharon Fletcher Boreing

• Anita Hodges Taylor

• Betty Ziesel

• Debbie McClaskey

District Attorney General District 1:

• Kenneth Baldwin

BOE to discuss interim director contract, director search on hold

Interim Director of Schools Bill Flanary’s contract will be discussed at the next school board meeting.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

The Washington County Board of Education named an interim director of schools just over a month ago and now Interim Director of Schools Bill Flanary could soon have an official interim contract to match.

BOE Chairman Jack Leonard confirmed to the Herald & Tribune that an interim director of schools contract will be up for consideration by the school board’s Monday, July 9, meeting.

Leonard said the interim contract includes a $130,050 salary, which is the same amount Kimber Halliburton was earning at the time of her resignation. The chairman also said the contract is retroactive to June 1, Flanary’s first official day in the position.

“It will be an interim decision until the board so chooses to make it permanent or if they decide to do a (director of schools) search,” Leonard said.

The board discussed the interim contract at last month’s BOE meeting, but the recommendation, which came through the finance committee report, was tabled in a 6-3 vote.

BOE member and Finance Committee Chairman Phillip McLain said at the meeting that Flanary had seen the contract and that the board attorney had drafted the document. However, Chairman Leonard had not seen the contract at the time of the meeting, which some board members saw as a concern.

“The chairman has always negotiated contracts with the director,” Board member Todd Ganger said. “I don’t understand why we didn’t do that this time. So I’d like, personally, for us to do that and do it correctly, the way we’ve done it in the past. Why we’re not doing that, I don’t understand.”

Board members Clarence Mabe, Mike Masters, Phillip McLain, Ganger, Keith Ervin and Leonard were in favor of tabling the contract at the June board meeting. Board members David Hammond, Mary Beth Dellinger and Annette Buchanan were opposed.

As for the search for the next Director of Schools in Washington County, it’s hard to tell just when that will come to fruition.

Leonard, who opted out of running for reelection in the upcoming August election, said he felt waiting until the next set of board members is decided is the best way to go.

“I know my preference, even though I’m going off the board, would be to wait until you got the new board on,” Leonard said, “because those are the individuals who will have to work with whoever they choose.”

According to Tennessee Code Annotated 49-2-203 14 (A), a board of education cannot negotiate a director’s contract 45 days before and 30 days following an election, thus restricting the board until Sept. 1. However, interim director contracts are not under this same constraint.

Timing isn’t the only aspect the BOE has to consider; at the June meeting, the school board also discussed selecting an organization to conduct a search for the next director.

Ganger suggested the board use Tennessee School Boards Association, the group that conducted the school system’s last search in 2016. He also said because the previous director remained in her position just under two years, the TSBA search would be conducted at no cost. His motion to use TSBA to conduct a director search, however, failed in a 6-3 vote.

“We would have the process started,” Ganger said. “It’s not a short process. It takes time. We could get the process started and then yes, it would be up to the new board that comes on who ends up interviewing and deciding whoever it is.”

Board members Masters, Ganger, and Leonard voted in favor of Ganger’s motion to use TSBA to conduct a director search. Board members Buchanan, Dellinger, McLain, Ervin, Mabe and Hammond voted against the motion.

McLain said he felt the board should wait to start the search. He also suggested the board consider other organizations for the director search, citing a group he said a local system recently used to find recommended candidates.

“We’ve used TSBA twice and I think the world of those folks down there,” McLain said, “But at the same time, I think we need to wait a few months and let Dr. Flanary get this new school year started.

“I’d also like to see us check into a program, like a local organization to look at some other folks and make some recommendations. I think before we sign a contract with TSBA, I think we need to look at that.”

The next BOE meeting will be held on Monday, July 9 at 6:30 p.m. at the Washington County Department of Education’s Central Office, located at 405 W College Street, Jonesborough.

Yarn Exchange earns grant, two awards

The Jonesborough Yarn Exchange recently received a grant as well as accolades for the group’s work.

From STAFF REPORTS

The Jonesborough Yarn Exchange was recently awarded a grant by the Tennessee Arts Commission and received two Pinnacle awards from the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association.

The Jonesborough Yarn Exchange is a monthly, story-based old-time radio performance at the International Storytelling Center that celebrates the culture, history, and stories of the people of Jonesborough and the Southern Appalachian Region.

The Jonesborough Yarn Exchange was awarded a grant of $4,250 provided by the Tennessee Arts Commission. This is the third year in a row that grant has been award to the Jonesborough Yarn Exchange Radio Show. This grant will support next year’s season.

“The Project Support Grant really helps to support programs like the Yarn Exchange Radio Show,” said Jules Corriere, outreach program director for the McKinney Center and the director for the Jonesborough Yarn Exchange. “Without the grant, it would be hard for community-minded projects like this to remain both affordable for the community audiences and sustainable for our organization. Our overall goal of the radio show is to make arts and our community’s stories accessible to all, and this grant allows us to do just that.”

But the accolades for the Jonesborough Yarn Exchange don’t stop there. They were also noted as a top performer in the tourism industry, receiving two recognitions at the annual Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association Pinnacle Awards in May. They were awarded top entry in Best Festival or Event under $50,000 and the Advertising and Promotions Rack Card under $50,000 categories.

“When they called the radio show to receive the award for “Best Event or Festival in Northeast Tennessee,” I was really surprised and stunned.” Said Corriere. “There are so many incredible events happening all year long in our region, from Bristol to Greeneville and places in-between. Receiving that honor, among all of these other fabulous programs, was so validating of the work we are doing.”

Tickets for the Yarn Exchange are $5 and can be purchased by calling (423)753-1010 or visiting Jonesborough.com/tickets.

Truck crashes into Food City

Damage was done to the right side of the store.

By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

A truck driven by an elderly Jonesborough resident crashed through the storefront of the Jonesborough Food City last Wednesday afternoon.

There were no injuries in the June 20 crash and it was determined that the incident was accidental. Jack S. Moore, 201 W. Main St.,  was the driver of truck.

“According to his statement, he put the truck in reverse and had his foot on the brake,” Jonesborough Police Major Jamie Aistrop said, “and his foot slipped off and he mashed the accelerator, causing him to accelerate out of control.

“It was completely accidental and he wasn’t charged with anything. Nobody was transported (to the hospital) or anything so thankfully, nobody was hurt. Food City has their repairs underway.”

The damage to the grocer was on the right side of the store and included the women’s restroom, which was unoccupied at the time.  The crash report from the Jonesborough Police Department indicated property damage was over $400 but a Food City spokesperson could not be reached.

The truck came to rest partially inside the store but was able to be driven away.

Diane Black holds meet and greet at Corner Cup

Candidate Diane Black talks with constituents.

By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

Tennessee gubernatorial candidate Diane Black held a meet and greet Tuesday morning at the venerable downtown Jonesborough coffee house, The Corner Cup.

“I fell in love with this town in the spring when I came here,” Black said to the citizens gathered to meet her.

“Every part of this state is important to me. And I think too many times small areas like this are forgotten about … it breaks my heart because we cannot lose our culture and who we are.”

Black stated that she believes the biggest issue facing Tennesseans is keeping the state’s values intact.

“The biggest issue for all of Tennessee is to make sure that we keep our Tennessee values. What we’re seeing across the nation is it’s so easy to lose your values when people come from other states and we are a state that has a lot of people moving into it,” she added, “In Middle Tennessee, we have 100 people moving in every day. They come from places like California and New York that don’t share our values and they’re going to want to change who we are.

“I think it’s imperative that our next governor is acutely aware of it, number one because those things can sneak up on you and you wake up one day and say, ‘Where did it all go?’ And I, as governor, am going to make sure I’m watching that constantly and that we don’t allow people moving here to bring their values and try to change who we are.”    

Black has served the past eight years as a Congressman for Tennessee’s Sixth District and has chaired the House Budget Committee in the past. She was also a member of the State Legislature, serving six years in the Senate and six years in the House.

“It makes me uniquely qualified because I have had the experience in both the state and the federal level … I know the legislative process. I certainly know how to work with the governor and the governor needs to work with the legislators.

“I have a lot of contacts with the people that are in the federal government that I’ll have that reach, as the governor, to be able to call and just say ‘Hey, I need your help with this’ or ‘Can you tell me about that?’ because I still have a lot of contacts in Washington.”

She began her career as a registered nurse and still maintains her license. She and her husband, Dr. David Black, have three children and reside in Gallatin.

“I am a mother and a grandmother and I’m a nurse. I’ve been a nurse for more than 45 years and I still have a license today,” Black continued, “I’ve also started small businesses, I’m an educator. I’ve done a little bit of everything.

“I know how to run a business, and I’ve been an educator so I know about the field of education and also medicine.”

She believes these facts qualify her for the governor’s office over the other candidates.

“The thing about nursing is you’re taught so much about looking at root causes. You always go back to the root cause to figure out why something’s happening. I’ve used that same principle in what I do in the legislature or in my business. ‘Why is this happening? What can we do to fix the root cause and not patch it?’”

According to Black, she was spurred to run for office when she worked as a nurse.

“I was working in the hospital back in 1998, when TennCare was still here in the State of Tennessee and I saw what it was doing to the quality of care, the cost of care, and I thought ‘I’ve never run for office before in my life, but I could have a voice and tell people what actually is happening as a boots-on-the-ground nurse.”

Black said she feels education is a key issue as well.

“We can tell a manufacturer when we recruit them that they are going to have an educated workforce. That includes more than just college.”

She said if the programs that help students become eligible for work straight out of school could be brought in, Tennessee’s rural areas would stay strong.

Black finished her visit by telling the crowd, “I have a heart for service and I want to serve this state and I will consider it to be an honor.”

Commission opts out of McCoy property — for now

 

The county commission opted not to have the county mayor purchase the land that sets to the left of Jonesborough Elementary School. The Commission did, however, opt to extend the due diligence period once again.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

It wasn’t a Washington County Board of Education meeting, but that didn’t keep a decision regarding the land adjacent to the future Jonesborough School project from being the center of discussion at the Washington County Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, June 25.

The commission opted to vote down an amended resolution to purchase the property from the McCoy family for no more than $777,900 in a 10-13 vote. Following the vote, a motion to have the county mayor see if the property owner will extend the due diligence period on the purchase agreement another six months passed 20-3.

The discussion was brought about by Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge in the county mayor’s report. The original resolution said it was the mayor’s recommendation to allow the purchasing agreement on the land “to lapse since the board of education has not approved a plan that utilizes the subject property.”

“I just want it back in front of you to reconsider your decision,” Eldridge said to the commission at Monday’s meeting. “If you want to go forward with it, great. If you want to reconsider the change in circumstances, great. But I am not going to make that decision for you. I would be acting well out of my authority

to be making that decision for you.”

He pointed out that back in January of 2017, the commission authorized that the mayor enter a purchasing agreement with the McCoys regarding the 15-acre property when the commission also approved the plan to turn the current Jonesborough Elementary School site into the new Jonesborough K-8 School and the current Jonesborough Middle School building into an academic magnet. However, the board of education has since opted to use the funds for an academic magnet for the Jonesborough School project.

During the public hearing portion of the meeting, school board members Annette Buchanan and Keith Ervin, who are both up for reelection, addressed the board to advocate for the purchase of the property. Kerrie Aistrop, a Jonesborough parent, who is also running for a spot on the Washington County BOE, also addressed the commission in hopes of an extension regarding the purchasing agreement.

“What I’m asking is, before you make the decision on rescinding that property, give the school board the July meeting,” Aistrop said.

“Give us 30 days to see if they can come up with a vote (regarding the Jonesborough School project). If the HEW Committee can pass it through, we can get a school for Jonesborough.”

Aistrop added that at the last meeting, the BOE garnered a 8-1 vote regarding a school project. However, the vote was cast in favor of allowing the school’s architect to come up with an in-budget version of the Scheme 2 plan, which allows for making renovations and additions to the current elementary school building in Jonesborough while also tearing down the round portion of that building. The architect is yet to present that revised plan, with a cost, to the full school board.

Some commissioners, however, wanted to see a concrete plan before agreeing to purchase the McCoy property that school board members have said could potentially be the home of athletic fields.

“The school board has demonstrated to me at least on five different occasions that they can’t make a sound business decision,” Commissioner Lynn Hodge said. “Then you come to us tonight, last minute, and say you’ve got another plan. You have nothing concrete to present to us. We have nothing to look at. We have nothing to base our facts on. And you ask us to vote for the purchase of this property for $750,000 with basically, in my opinion, no plan.”

Other commissioners maintained their faith that the school board could produce a plan for the school project.

“I don’t understand why we are wanting to pull this,” Commissioner Danny Edens said. “It’s not our decision to make. It’s the school board’s decision. I know it’s taking forever, but I still have confidence in our school board that they can come up with a scheme or a plan regardless of the price change (due to increasing construction costs and interest rates) or anything else. Why would we not have already purchased this property?”

Eldridge said there were two reasons the property hadn’t already been purchased since the commission’s approval in 2017; he reiterated that the plan attached to the land purchase was abandoned along with the plan for the academic magnet and K-8 school, but he also cited restrictions set on the land by Lowe’s Home Improvement, which has a location next to the property, as a hold up.

Washington County Attorney Tom Seeley said the purchasing agreement on the land has been extended five times in the past 17 months, in part due to the restrictions which effect parking and access to property on the land. Seeley said those restrictions are yet to be lifted, and Eldridge said the county would not close on the property until they could get a clean title free of those restrictions.

Meanwhile, commissioners still felt the land was most valuable to the Jonesborough community no matter what decision is made by the local school board regarding the school project.

“There is no more property to be had at Jonesborough,” Commissioner Mike Ford said. “If we forgo this and we let it slip through our fingers, I see us out there in the country somewhere trying to find another suitable location when we’ve already got it, if we can just purchase this property. Sulphur Springs is landlocked. Gray Elementary is the same way. They can’t go anywhere. We need to be buying this piece of property while we can. I don’t think this county can afford to lose the opportunity to purchase this. If we don’t buy it now, we’re done.”

Storytelling Resource Place announces opening, reception

The Slemons House in Jonesborough will soon be the home of the Storytelling Resource Place with a grand opening scheduled for Saturday, June 23.

From STAFF REPORTS

The theme for the June 23 opening and reception of the Storytelling Resource Place (SRP) will be “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.  Guests are invited to bring children or grandchildren. Little girls may want to bring their fairy wings or dress in costumes. 

Storytelling Resource Place President Pam Miller is ready to kick off the SRP grand opening.

“We want people to start thinking of SRP as a magical place where you might see fairy dust and you don’t know what could be around the next corner,” Pam Miller, the president of the SRP, said. “We won’t be doing the play that day, but we will have some good stories and music and tours of the house. We will be offering tea from antique cups along with delicious cookies of all kinds. We will hand out wreaths for as long as they last. We hope for a sunny day so that you can spend time on Kathryn’s Porch (named in honor of Kathryn Tucker Windham) and in the yard.”

Miller and a team of volunteers will be hosting this event on Saturday afternoon, June 23, from 3 until 6 p.m.  The SRP is located in the historic Slemons House in Mill Creek Park in Jonesborough, next to the gazebo. The group moved into this two story building last fall just before the National Storytelling Festival. They have a long-term lease agreement with the Town of Jonesborough.  Immediately after moving in, they got a new roof put on the house and began with other needed repairs.  Miller said they are extremely grateful for the support received from the town as they made repairs. 

The book collection was moved into the house in the spring where thousands of books are housed.  Most of them had been kept at the local library, but some were being stored other places.  The goal for the house is for it to serve as a storytelling museum and research place.  There are plans to have storytelling and workshops scheduled frequently.  SRP applied for and received a 501 (c) 3 non-profit status from the State of Tennessee. 

“Although we are pleased with our progress,” Miller said, “we still have a lot to do and we still need many other items for the house.   We do feel it is time to post our hours and open the house to the public. We hope a lot of folks will come by on June 23 to look the place over and help us celebrate the opening.”

There is limited parking beside the house, but you can park behind the Old Courthouse and walk across Fox Street to the house or perhaps you can park on Fox.   

Town wins TMLs award for planning, development

Town Administrator Bob Browning and Kelly Wolfe, the former Jonesborough Mayor, accepts the TML award.

By LISA WHALEY

Publisher

lwhaley@heraldandtribune.com

The Town of Jonesborough was honored for its community planning and development last week, and former mayor Kelly Wolfe was on hand to accept the award.

“If you’ll look at the title of the award, it deals explicitly with planning,” Wolfe said, after accepting the award in Knoxville. “And to me, that means not only a strategy for implementing the different programs we have tried to execute, but the vision itself for the longtime health of our town.”

The award was presented by the Tennessee Municipal League in recognition of Jonesborough’s recent accomplishments including its involvement of the preservation of the International Storytelling Center, the purchase and renovation of the former Booker T. Washington School into the McKinney Center, and the current redevelopment efforts of the Jackson Theatre.

According to current Mayor Chuck Vest, these and other such accomplishments point to the ongoing  pursuit of a healthy and thriving Jonesborough.

“I think its obvious to us here in Jonesborough that our town took, years ago, a forward leaning direction. I think we have improved ourselves financially and in our infrastructure.

“And there is not doubt it’s going to continue.  If you’re not forward thinking and your improving as a town, you can dry up and die.”

The Municipal League seemed to have little fear that Jonesborough was in any danger of drying up.

In addition to the ISC, the McKinney Center and the Jackson Theatre they praised Jonesborough’s downtown revitalization,  its new senior center, the Boone Street Market and Chuckey Depot.

Fall Branch paving project gets committee approval

From left to right, Commissioner Tom Krieger, Commissioner Lee Chase, Maintenance Supervisor Phillip Patrick and Interim Director of Schools Bill Flanary eyeball the paving plans.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

Washington County is about to hit the road on the Fall Branch Elementary School paving project — and possibly, very soon.

The Washington County Health, Education and Welfare Committee unanimously voted to fund the school system’s repaving project at the elementary school, which is a project that has been a part of the system’s capital projects plan throughout the past few years.

“It’s been a long time since that place has been repaved,” Washington County Department of Education Maintenance Supervisor Phillip Patrick said while presenting the request. “In the last six or seven years, we’ve put a new roof on this building, we’ve added a geothermal heating and cooling system and we are actually up here at the ballfields putting some renovations on it and putting some new fence up. We’re trying to give that community something they can be proud of, something they can use.”

Patrick said the project is estimated to cost $110,000. He also said he’s hoping the project, which includes repaving the driveway, gravel areas and parking lot at the school, will be underway this summer while students are on summer break. But the paving project isn’t the only maintenance that’s been conducted at the school within the last few years, nor is maintenance the only topic that’s been discussed regarding the school.

Last year, when county officials discussed conducting a “master plan” for the school system regarding it’s buildings and declining student enrollment, local communities voiced concerns for possible consolidations for smaller schools such as Fall Branch.

At the HEW Committee meeting, Commissioner Suzy Williams said she felt as if the general consensus regarding the elementary school within the Fall Branch community was one that resisted the idea of a potential consolidation. And in response to that, Patrick said the school system has certainly invested in Fall Branch throughout the past few years.

“We’ve just invested in it,” Patrick said.”We invested in a HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system that was a couple million dollars, I’m sure. We recently put a new roof on it and that will last another 10 or 15 years. So we’re there for a while.”

The paving plan is part of the county school system’s capital projects plan, which lists the school district’s upcoming maintenance and facility needs. But the plan has made its way back into discussion following the ongoing Jonesborough School project debacle, which has prompted BOE members to reexamine the school system’s plan and the district’s maintenance supervisor and frequented architect, Tony Street, to update those price tags according to today’s costs.

In light of the Jonesborough School project plan that remains in limbo and the suggestion for the school system to conduct a master plan, which failed on the commission floor last year, Krieger said he hopes the BOE is still considering a plan following a facilities study that was conducted back in 2012 or reassessing the plan from here on.

“A lot of things have changed since then,” Krieger said. “I just encourage (the BOE) to talk about, ‘Are we going to have a new plan and what is it?’ It’s difficult for any of us when we try to nickel and dime all the money away and then it gets time to do something and we don’t have anything left.”

Patrick reminded the committee that, unlike many split BOE decisions as of late, the school board unanimously voted for the Fall Branch paving project.

“This is a full board’s consensus on this paving,” Patrick said. “And I’m sure you all are aware that a capital projects plan is sort of a living document. Mr. Street and myself went over these numbers because it’s been three or four years since we put these numbers together. I think there’s a board retreat where they will look and reevaluate this.”

Commissioner Joe Grandy reminded the committee that a plan to reroof South Central Elementary School for $560,000 is included in the county’s upcoming budget. Meanwhile, Patrick said the school system has approved the plan to replace the brick at Gray Elementary School and will be an upcoming project as well.

Board looks for options to school project debacle

Board member David Hammond looks on as Board member Todd Ganger suggests one of his two motions in regards to the Jonesborough project during the board’s Thursday, June 7 meeting.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

The Jonesborough School project didn’t appear on the Washington County Board of Education’s meeting agenda for its regularly scheduled Thursday, June 7 meeting, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the center of discussion with numerous motions made during the board’s facility committee report.

The only Jonesborough School decision that received the nine-member board’s stamp of approval was board member Clarence Mabe’s motion for the project’s architect, Tony Street, to revisit his Scheme 2A plan to make renovations and additions to the current Jonesborough Elementary School which also includes demolishing the circular part of the school. But this time around, Mabe asked that Street reduce the cost down to the budgeted $20,750,000 for the project without redistricting the Jonesborough area to reduce enrollment at the K-8 school.

“I’m a doer. I’m not one that sits around and twiddles their thumb and says, ‘What’s going to happen?’ Let’s get something done, “ Mabe said. “We’ve been here two years and we’ve got 5-4 on the only ones that the county commission will pass. They’re not going to do the others. So let’s make a move.”

The board’s approval didn’t pass the plan along to the county’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee just yet, but in considering reducing the project’s plan — and after having already reduced the scheme once prior —Street reminded the board of the two ways to reduce the project’s costs.

“I made a statement a long time ago that there are two basic ways to reduce costs; one is to either reduce size or reduce quality,” Street said. “I’m going to disagree a little with what Mr. Mabe said, but to get this thing in budget, we’re going to have to reduce the number of students.

“We can’t handle but about 650 students in the money we’ve got. And I know that would put some students elsewhere, but that’s kind of where I see it at the moment.”

The Scheme 2A plan, which Street will soon reduce, is currently priced at $24,371,000 and would consist of 41 classrooms. Scheme 2, the plan from which Scheme 2A was drawn, was previously priced at $26,802,000 and consists of 47 classrooms. At 20 students per classroom Scheme 2A, at it’s current projected size, would have room for 820 students.

In response to the call for a possible student reduction at the school, board member Phillip McLain suggested the school district’s interim director and central office staff consider redistricting the Jonesborough area.

“In all of these discussions, looking at redistricting around Jonesborough has been brought up,” McLain said. “I think we should start looking at it in an attempt to reduce the student count at Jonesborough K-8 — I’m going to go ahead and call it a K-8.

“Let’s start looking at it to see how many rooms Lamar has and how many rooms West View has and how much extra space there’s going to be in the new Boones Creek School, perhaps. If we could trim some off in two or three directions, we could get it back to where Tony could build it for $20 million.”

Some board members, however, had reservations about trimming the Jonesborough district due to the capacity imbalance is could cause at Washington County’s two high schools, David Crockett High School and Daniel Boone High School.

“That’s a bad idea to redistrict Jonesborough,” board member Todd Ganger said. “If you redistrict there, you’re telling me you’re going to now send Crockett kids to a Boone school and have those kids go to Boone because you’re going to redistrict them to the new Boones Creek, which we should be saving for new enrollment kids within the Ridges, Highland Gate and everywhere like that. It’s the biggest and best feeder you’ve got going into Crockett and you’re wanting to downsize it. Bad idea.”

The board also voted on the Scheme 3 plan to make additions and renovations to the current Jonesborough Middle School, but the motion failed 5-4.

Ganger said Street updated the facilities committee on the “issues” some had with the Scheme 3 plan; Ganger said all plumbing would be new, the building would be approximately 60 feet from the edge of the track and the adjacent McCoy property would be purchased in the plan.

Scheme 3 doesn’t include plans for the elementary school building, which posed some concerns from board members who expressed a desire to have the round portion of the building torn down. Meanwhile, other board board members suggested utilizing the elementary school building for Asbury School graduations or for other district needs.

“The structure of that building — there’s nothing wrong with it. It is a good, structurally sound building,” Ganger said. “I don’t think you tear down buildings that are structurally sound like that. I think this system could use that building as a meeting place for professional development. We could use it as a meeting place. We have meetings we have to take to other places because we don’t have anywhere currently.”

However, board members favored the idea of reducing the Scheme 2A plan at the elementary school to fit the project’s budget over the Scheme 3 plan at the middle school.

“(Revisiting Scheme 2A) is going to give the people in Jonesborough more of what they told us they wanted at their town hall meeting,” Board member Mary Beth Dellinger said. “They did not favor Scheme 3. They want something almost comparable to Boones Creek. It’s not going to be comparable, but something they can be proud of.”

The board also considered reverting to a previous plan regarding the Jonesborough Schools.

After the Scheme 3 discussion, Ganger made the motion to renovate the elementary school and middle school and use the remainder of the funds for Boone and Crockett’s stadiums, saying that for those who want to wait on the school project, the suggestion would “buy the time.”

McLain said he’d like to reexamine that previous plan. The board later opted to table the motion in a 5-4 vote.

Street said that original plan included using $5 million on each of Jonesborough’s elementary and middle schools, but that those costs could be higher now. He also said he’d need around six weeks to get plans ready for the stadium’s renovations.

“This board is well aware we have to do something with the stadium and the seating,” Ganger said. “As many times as we’ve talked about it on the five-year facilities plan, it’s become an issue.”

Among split votes and numerous suggestions, multiple board members also expressed chagrin regarding the indecision from the BOE saying, as board member David Hammond put it, that the school board “wants a K-8 yesterday”. And some, like Mabe, don’t see that decision on the horizon.

“I was hoping that we’d make a decision tonight,” Mabe said. “Most of us will not be here when that decision is made. I can promise you that.”

The next BOE meeting is scheduled for Monday, July 9, at 6:30 p.m. at the Washington County Department of Education Central Office, 405 W College Street, Jonesborough.

BMA agrees to pursue grants to fund dog park

By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

The Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted Tuesday to approve grant applications to fund the construction of a dog park on the town’s Rosenbaum property, located  along Little Limestone Creek on Old State Route 34.

There are two grants that could fund the dog park; one is from the Pet Safe grant program and funds $25,000 and the other is the Boyd Foundation, also for $25,000. Randy Boyd, current candidate for governor,  owns Pet Safe and operates Boyd Foundation, but these are two separate programs.

The motion passed on a 3-1 vote with Alderman David Sell voting against the motion.

“I’m not a proponent. I’m not an animal hater. I’ve got two dogs, a cat and two ponies,” Sell said. “My main issue on the dog park is that the list of projects that we’ve already got going on.

“Our crew is stretched very thin for maintenance and we keep adding. … I’m not against it, but I really don’t even feel like it needs to be in

the equation right now. To me, it needs to be on the very back burner.”

Alderman Virginia Causey disagreed, “I feel like since it is a grant, we have to apply for it; we don’t know whether we’ll get it or not. I think we should go ahead and authorize the staff to apply for the grant. I think the park will be used.

“I think there’s a lot of people that’s got dogs that would take them and let them run in the park.”

Mayor Chuck Vest believed the proposal was a good opportunity to pick up at least $25,000 to fund the park.

“I think what we’re looking at … is a park that’s going to come in close to what the grant’s going to be. The question will be will our grant be $25,000 or would it be $50,000?

“In my opinion, if we get a grant from a foundation, it’s free money, and it’s something we can get built without using taxpayer dollars.”

Both grants have a three-year contract, so the park would have to open within three years.

Town Administrator Bob Browning added, “There’s really about three things that are priorities to the funders. One is that it’s fenced, that small and large dogs are separated; that there’s adequate sign-age; and that there’s water available for the animals.

Browning added, “A dog park is a big draw and I agree with Alderman Causey that it would be highly used. It’ll be in a great location and I think it’ll be an added plus to the town with really minimal maintenance.”

Browning and Jonesborough Parks and Recreation Director Rachel Conger researched the options for a dog park and worked with an engineer to develop a concept plan. The presentation went before both the Tree and Townscape and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee and both unanimously recommended that the BMA authorize the search for grant funding.

Board talks future of academic coaches

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

The Washington County Board of Education managed to approve a balanced budget that will make its way to the Washington County Budget Committee meeting on Wednesday, June 13.

The $68 million dollar budget included absorbing 13 teaching positions left vacant by retirees and resignations. It also included required salary step increases while the board stepped back on opting for raises for all employees in attempt to balance the budget.

“I’d love to give a one-percent raise,” Interim Director of Schools Bill Flanary said, “but I think this year, it’s going to cost. This is not the year to do it.”

Washington County Department of Education Finance Director Brad Hale told the board that for every 1 percent raise, budget expenses would increase by $461,000. He also said the only way to fund raises in the upcoming budget would be to reduce staff.

Hale also informed the board that during the county’s budget committee meetings, county officials were clear that the school system would not be receiving any more funds beyond the approximately $67 million allotted from tax revenues and basic education funding, thus putting an emphasis on balancing the school system’s budget.

“They very clearly said, ‘We want you to understand that amount, $67 million, is all you’re getting,’” Hale said. “‘You’re not getting any additional money from the county. That’s what you have to balance your budget on.’ So this amount is what we have. They made it very clear that there’s nothing else.”

To balance the budget, the board opted to use $1 million from the system’s fund balance, leaving the budget at $68 million. Hale also informed the board that an unforeseen expense has bounced back from the county budget to the school system. Hale said that auditors are requiring that the school system foot the $370,000 bill for system liability insurance for the district’s buildings and contents inside those buildings.

“We have state auditors that are now auditing our books. They said (having the county pay the cost) is a violation of the statute because the county does not own the buildings or the contents,” Hale said. “This is $370,000 the school system now has to swallow that we did not have to do in the past. Obviously in this budget year, that hurts.”

The board agreed to have Flanary and Hale bring the balanced budget as well as a request for funds to cover the $370,000 to the budget committee.

But numbers weren’t the only part of the discussion when it came to the budget; board members also discussed reconsidering academic coaches in the county school system when board member Mary Beth Dellinger made a motion to reduce the number of academic coaches from 12 to four. However, the motion was later withdrawn to keep the positions.

“I’m hearing that there are possible projected overcrowding in classes and I would like to reduce the amount of academic coaches,” Dellinger said. “I questioned these positions last year and we don’t need to take away from direct services to the classroom.”

The board added seven academic coaches last year in an effort to place an academic coach in each school in the system. The former director of schools, Kimber Halliburton, was an advocate for adding academic coaches, which are designed to improve student academic skill and performance while also assisting educators in classroom effectiveness.

Hale said three of those 12 positions are federally funded while nine of those positions are funded through the general budget.

Meanwhile, board member Annette Buchanan said she’d like to see Dellinger’s idea of reducing academic coaches restructured.

“I think your academic coaches, in some cases, have been working really well because they are familiar with certain grade levels over other grade levels,” Buchanan said. “So if you’ve got an academic coach that is K-3, that’s where they concentrate, that’s where they work, that’s where they’ve spent their classroom time. They really know how to bring up those teachers in that area.

“I would like to see it restructured to where you have a K-3 academic coach, a 5-8 academic coach in ELA and a 5-8 academic coach for math. Those are the things that we are really hitting at. It would reduce the amount that we needed, but it would also I think give our teachers more support in what our county needs to get those teachers there.”

In considering a reduction in the amount of academic coaches, Hale reminded the board that those tenured educators who are currently academic coaches would have to be put back in a classroom, taking the spot of a non-tenured teacher. He also said reducing those academic coaching positions wouldn’t save the budget the cost of a tenured teacher salary. It would instead be a savings of what a an average, non-tenured teacher earns, which would, he said save somewhere between $58,000 to $60,000 counting benefits and all.

Meanwhile, BOE Chairman Jack Leonard held cautions on potentially firing the others in those positions. Flanary also said, in his first meeting as the interim director since former Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton’s resignation, that he felt cuts weren’t necessary to balance the budget.

“This doesn’t bode well, but my first statement would be to disagree with this motion,” Flanary said. “You can balance your budget by leaving those 12 people in place. If you cut those people, those are real people, who have families, that will lose those jobs. If you pull back on that number, then the remaining coaches become system-wide and they’re not as effective that way. If they’re not in the school, on that faculty, embedded at that site, they’re not as effective. They’re seen as central office staff and they just don’t do as good.

“I hear what you’re saying about their specialties. That’s a valid point. These principals have got to find ways to use their strengths to be the best of their ability at that school.”

Flanary also suggested that the board consider coach sharing to better target the areas in which certain teachers need assistance.

Other board members, however, were concerned about non-renewals acquired from the end of the school year.

Board member David Hammond was concerned about the 13 non-renewals from the school year and the non-tenured teachers the school system’s director of human resources, Susan Kiernan, said were yet to receive a letter. Hammond said he felt too many cuts were made last year after the board expressed they wished to keep it at a certain number of non-renewals.

“How do we guarantee that won’t happen this year? How do we guarantee an upfront and open conversation that we know exactly who’s being removed and this board’s not being honored when they make a vote on this budget?

“(the non-renewals) affected the classroom in my opinion. I want the least amount of cuts to the classroom.”

Hammond stressed that he was referring to the number rather than the names of employees who did not receive contract renewals, but school board member Clarence Mabe reminded the board that the task of hiring and firing employees within the system belongs to the director of schools.

“Is this a board decision, who is let go and who’s not?,” Mabe said. “Or is that the superintendent’s that we just hired? We can’t tell him who he can do what with.”

Flanary, however, said they would be looking at “every school and every position” following the non-renewals.

“If you adopt a budget tonight, those people who didn’t get contracts, we’re going to call the principals and we’re going to put them back on payroll before some other school gets them.”

Interview leads to arrest on first-degree murder charges

Aaron Story

By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal held a press conference Tuesday morning to announce that Jonesborough resident Aaron Christopher Story, age 32, has been charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of Christopher Scott Connelly, age 38.

According to Graybeal, “On June 2, we responded to Dry Creek 1500 block on a deceased white male on a trail road about 30 to 35 feet off the road.”

A woman walking her dogs saw the body and alerted local law enforcement. Graybeal said that as a result of good work by the Criminal Investigation Department, the victim was identified as Connelly.

The sheriff said Story happened to be in court on unrelated charges and that investigators were able to get him back to the sheriff’s office for questioning.

“He consented to talk to us and give us an interview and as a result of really good interviewing he said that he was the shooter,” Graybeal reported. “I think they talked to him about three hours, maybe closer to four, and he finally admitted to everything.”

The sheriff said that there was allegedly some type of dispute between the two men.

Graybeal said that Connelly was shot once in the back of the head, but that the murder weapon has not been recovered.

Story is currently being held on a $100,000 bond at the Washington County Detention Center. He was scheduled for arraignment on Tuesday, June 5, at 1:30 p.m. in General Sessions Court.

Graybeal added that the investigation was ongoing and that investigators were still trying to piece the events together. “We’re still talking to find out exactly what the evening was like and so far the gentleman that we have charged with the murder is cooperating with us.”

Graybeal also appealed to the public for information. “We’re still asking anybody that knows anything about these gentleman, or anybody that has anything they can give us to call our number here. Either call 911 or (423) 788-1414. If you call, if you would, give us your name and number where we can contact you back.”

Squaring off: Forum focuses on latest school issues

From left to right, Kerrie Aistrop, Keith Ervin, Jason Day, David Hammon, Trevor Knight, Donald Feathers, Chad Fleenor and Mitch Meredith were all present at the WCEA school board forum.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

It’s not time to elect school board members for the upcoming August election, but candidates running for a spot on the board of education are already discussing local education issues in Washington County.

On Tuesday, May 22, the Washington County Educator’s Association held a school board candidate forum at the McKinney Center in Jonesborough. Those running for a seat on the Washington County Board of Education were present to answer questions which were decided by WCEA’s political action committee. The candidates were familiar with the questions, which were emailed to them prior to the event.

“We don’t know some (candidates) and we don’t know what they have to offer until they have an opportunity to speak, “ WCEA president Regina France told the Herald & Tribune. “And we want to give every one a fair chance to share what their ideas are on the concerns. You might be surprised. It’s a fair way to get to know the candidates.”

The panel of candidates included those running for District 1 — Kerrie Aistrop, current board member Keith Ervin and Jason Day — and those running for District 3 — current board member David Hammond, Trevor Knight, Donald Feathers, Chad Fleenor and Mitch Meredith. Current board member Annette Buchanan, who will run in District 1, was unable to attend the event but sent a statement which was read at the beginning of the forum.

The members of the panel were allowed to answer each question, which revolved around education issues. While some questions focused on state-wide issues like testing and school funding, others focused on local issues within the Washington County School District, like the role of the director of schools.

When asked what responsibilities and priorities each candidate would put to the director of schools, Feathers and Day both said they felt the director alone shouldn’t have the power to terminate school employees. Meanwhile, Hammond cited accountability and respect as aspects associated with the position and also said it wasn’t realistic to support a director while disagreeing with the decisions he or she makes. Ervin said he felt the way in which the director carries out his or her responsibilities was an integral part of the position.

“If you’ve got five board members that vote one way and four board members that vote the other way,” Ervin said, “it better be carried out to what the five board members says.

“If it’s not, she —or the person in the position — is not being held accountable. The school board sets policy, the director of schools carries it out. That’s how it’s supposed to be done. Sometimes it don’t get done that way, sometimes it does.”

Aistrop said she felt building a healthy, supportive culture for school employees was the top responsibility of the director of schools, while Knight, Day and Fleenor all said they felt supporting the director was vital as a member of the BOE.

“I was looking through Washington Counties policies and one thing that stuck with me is she is literally called on paper the chief executive officer of our school system,” Knight said.

“And to me, that means we have to let her do her job.”

The panel also discussed the Jonesborough K-8 School project, which has been an issue riddled with 5-4 votes from the BOE in regards to the school’s design plan, with two of those design decisions being voted down by the county’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee twice within the last eight months.

While many discussed the need to act quickly to get a plan started for the Jonesborough project, multiple candidates said they felt it was time to simplify the decision-making process in regards to the school.

“It’s this simple; in nine months, where have we gotten? Have we gotten anywhere? No,” Aistrop said. “Everybody has the list of everything the Jonesborough parents want and everyone has a list of everything school board members want. It’s time we have a meeting with Tony Street (the project’s architect) with a pen and paper and say, ‘They want a new gym? Okay. They need the asbestos removed? Okay. We need new pipes?’ It’s real simple stuff. Tony, make $20.7 million work with these tiny little demands so our kids can have safe drinking water and no asbestos. It’s that simple.”

The panel didn’t just touch on building schools; as it has across the county, the school security discussion was also spurred at the event in light of recent school shootings.

The discussion predominantly involved what many panel members considered a lack in the number of school resource officers. Multiple candidates said they’ve heard that certain schools are sharing SROs, which, they felt, could lead to a severe lack in school safety.

“The thing I don’t like either; the SRO will be out directing traffic — then who’s in the schools?,” Fleenor said.

“The SRO is gone. We’ve got to do a better job of getting that fixed. We need two officers minimum.”

Day and Feathers both said they recently visited two Washington County Schools where Feathers said he saw a lack in SROs and Day said he felt there was a need to up campus security and focus on adding security to the top of a list of priorities.

“I got out of the truck and walked around and looked at things,” Day said. “No one, in over 35-plus minutes, ever addressed that. That was a red flag to me. Overall, we need campus safety. Anyone can drive up to our schools.

“We have our wants and our needs, but I feel this is something that needs to be prioritized in my opinion.”

The general election will be held on Thursday, Aug. 2. Early voting will begin on Friday, July 13 and will end on Saturday, July 28.

For more information, go to www.wcecoffice.com/.

BOE remains in gridlock over school

There is currently no design plan on the books from the school board for the Jonesborough School project.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

For the past year, the Washington County Board of Education has been going round and round over a Jonesborough School project decision. But now, it’s more of a standstill.

The school board voted on Scheme 3, the design plan to make renovations and additions to the current Jonesborough Middle School building to create a K-8 school. The motion failed 5-4. School board members Todd Ganger, Jack Leonard, Clarence Mabe and Mike Masters were in favor. School board members Annette Buchanan, Mary Beth Dellinger, Keith Ervin, David Hammond and Phillip McLain were opposed.

“This scheme is in budget and creates a K-8 school instead of just a K-4 school to be added onto,” Leonard said. “We have a scheme that will take care of K-8. You’re talking about common sense — that’s common sense.”

Prior to Thursday’s school board meeting, the Scheme 4 plan to made additions and renovations to the current Jonesborough Elementary School building to create a K-4 school, which would later be completed as a K-8 school, passed in a 5-4 vote by the board. However, it was voted down by the Washington County Commission’s Health Education and Welfare Committee.

County officials have also suggested reducing the tax levy from the latest county tax increase due to the school project gridlock and holding off on purchasing the McCoy property, which is adjacent to the current Jonesborough Elementary School building.

Scheme 3 is the only K-8 design plan within the county’s allotted $20,750,000 for the project. For some board members, Scheme 3 was also a way to secure funding and the property that could be used for a road to a future Jonesborough as well as potential athletic facilities.

“We’ve got something that’s paid for, we’re still providing for all the kids, plus we are still going to take care of our facility needs down the way, we’re still purchasing the McCoy property with Scheme 3 — which everyone wants for future ball fields and a road,” Leonard said. “I’ve lived in Jonesborough for 55 years. I went to those schools and I know, more than a lot of people on this board who didn’t go to Jonesborough, what is needed.

“The big argument that was brought to us from the Jonesborough parents was ‘get us out of the round.’ What does Scheme 3 do for you? It gets you out of the round. That was your big argument.”

Other board members disagreed, however.

McLain said he still thought the reduced version of Scheme 2, Scheme 2A, which would tear down the round and make renovations and additions to the current elementary school, was the best option.

“I cannot wrap my mind around putting a two-story building within 10 or 12 feet of the edge of the football field with no other sports area of any kind and where 935 kids have to go,” McLain said. “I would much rather see 2A — reduce some classrooms, do some redistricting and make it fit the budget. You’d tear down the round and build some new wings.”

Ervin said he still thinks the board should hold off on the project while Hammond, who recently suggested the board enter an inter-local agreement to acquire funds from handing over the deed to one of the Boones Creek properties to the county, said he stands by his desire to have a commitment that Scheme 4 would result in a full K-8

“I don’t want to sit there with a K-4 school for years either. And then, we’ve got escalating costs, different leadership and no follow through with that commitment. I want a commitment.”

Following the discussion, Mabe asked the board during round table where this left the project — and where failing to come to a decision leaves the project.

“Where are we now with Jonesborough? I’d like to have something done before I leave here,” Mabe said. “But what are we saying to the commission? Are we saying this option, that option, we don’t want options, or we’re going to wait two years? I don’t understand. Where are we? What do we want to do?”

The next BOE meeting will be held Thursday, June 7 at 6:30 p.m. at the Washington County Department of Education’s Central Office located at 405 W College St., Jonesborough.