By MARINA WATERS
The Washington County Board of Education was unable to come to a decision on the Jonesborough K-8 school project at their most recent meeting — but that could spur a huge decision from the Washington County Commission regarding the tax rate in the county’s upcoming budget.
At the commission’s meeting on Monday, Feb. 26, Commissioner and Budget Committee Chairman Joe Grandy recommended the commission consider reducing the tax levy in the upcoming budget because, he said, currently, the school board has not been able to agree on a decision regarding the school project’s building plans.
“If they’re not going to do a Jonesborough project,” Grandy said, “I think it’s just disingenuous to ask tax payers to pay for a project they’re not going to do.”
In 2016, Washington County Commission approved a 40-cent tax increase. Part of the increase was to be put towards a new Boones Creek School and renovations and additions for a Jonesborough School at the current Jonesborough School building as well as an academic magnet school at the current Jonesborough Middle School building.
Board members have since requested to forgo the magnet school in order to put those funds towards the Jonesborough School project.
In December, the board voted to tear down the round potion of the Jonesborough Elementary School site, but that plan, which was $6,052,000 over budget, was voted down by commissioners. Since then, the board has remained in gridlock over the project’s construction plans.
But if the tax levy is decreased where does that leave the Jonesborough School?
Grandy said the project’s Scheme 3 option (which includes renovations and additions to the current Jonesborough Middle School building) is within budget and is still an option. However, board members and citizens have also voiced their concerns in opposition of the Scheme 3 plan.
“That’s a logical question — what would be the plan (if the tax levy is decreased)? There is a plan there. I hope the board of education will step up and go ahead and move forward and do what they need to do to get this project moving forward,” Grandy said. “That would be the right thing to do is to do what is best for those children and correct the facilities that are creating learning problems.”
As for the money already collected for the school project through the tax increase, Grandy said there’s a possibility some school system maintenance requests, such as roofing and heating and air conditioning needs, could be addressed with those funds, though no plans set.
“In order to get to the $20 million (for the Jonesborough School project), we had to defer some maintenance projects and push them down the road on a couple facilities,” Grandy said. “What might happen is we just go ahead and do those projects with those funds.”
Time’s not up for all the Jonesborough project pieces just yet; Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge also said at Monday’s commission meeting that during the commission’s March meeting, he would be asking commissioners to reaffirm their decision on the McCoy property which sets beside Jonesborough Elementary School. Until then, he said he is not prepared to go ahead with the land purchase. The option to purchase the property now runs out at the end of March.
“This is a $750,000 investment. Maybe the school board will get a clear direction and will make a decision in the next few weeks,” Eldridge said. “But I want you all to know I am not prepared to follow through with this purchase without your confirmation of the decision that was made over a year ago.”
The next Washington County Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the Washington County Department of Education located at 405 W College Street, Jonesborough.