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Board of Ed yet to name top needs at area schools

Despite meeting three times last week, Washington County Board of Education members say they will be unable to comply with the county commission’s request for a list of $3 million in capital needs by the Budget Committee’s meeting on Wednesday, June 12.
Director of Schools Ron Dykes shared information regarding Mayor Dan Eldridge’s proposed capital outlay note that would provide $2.8 million to the schools during the BOE’s Facilities Committee meeting June 5.
“According to the mayor, the Budget Committee will finalize the list on June 12, and the mayor hopes to present it to the county commmission on June 24 (for approval),” Dykes said.
Committee Chair Chad Williams said it would be impossible to provide a list without knowing the cost of the things needed at schools.
“They’re asking us to use these numbers and choose the most important,” Dykes said, referring to the BOE’s Prioritized Five-Year Facilities Needs document that was updated March 13 and includes more than $22 million of capital projects designated as high, medium or low priority.
New roofs for Jonesborough Elementary School and Midway are two immediate needs Dykes suggested including as “must haves.”
Williams asked Dykes when they would get the school safety assessment report from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the long-range educational report from architect Tony Street. Dykes said it would be 30-60 days for the assessment report.
“I feel like we need to have both reports,” Williams said and made a motion to wait until the reports were in-hand before making the list. The motion passed unanimously.
Eldridge appealed to members of the Finance Committee during their meeting the next night. “The window of opportunity is closing fast, and the debt offering requires a list of projects,” he said.
Board member Phillip McLain asked if the Facilities Committee had discussed the request. Dykes said the committee’s recommendation to the BOE was to wait until two additional reports were received. “We found out they would likely be ready the second week of July,” Dykes said. “We didn’t know they had to list the projects.”
Eldridge said he received documents from the bond counsel the night before which indicate the list is required to get the funding.
County Attorney John Rambo confirmed the county has to disclose the items that will be purchased as part of the bond issuance.
The full amount of the bond would be $8.6 million. (See Page 3A for a full story on the county’s plan.) The school portion of the debt service for the 12-year term could be covered by the $260,000 inflationary factor that was reinstated this year as part of state funding.
“The schools have a long list of capital needs, but the recurring $260,000 won’t make a dent,” Eldridge said, comparing the increase to the $2.8 million that could be leveraged with the bond. “We need a commitment that you will apply the $260,000 to debt service.”
Board member Bill Brinkley asked if the items could be changed once the list was submitted, and Eldridge said they would try to make the categories as broad as possible.
McLain’s concern is whether the $260,000 would be available for the 12-year life of the bond. “If it’s taken away again (by the state), it could bite us,” he said.
According to Eldridge, the county would pick up the cost should that happen.
Finance Committee members unanimously approved a motion by board member Mary Lo Silvers to recommend the BOE commit $260,000 to debt service.
During the BOE meeting that followed, Williams made a motion to wait until the reports were received before making a list of capital projects for which to use the money.
Brinkley reminded members of the timeline Eldridge gave, and board member David Hammond said they would try to have the list by the June 24 commission meeting.
Commissioner Mitch Meredith tried to emphasize the importance of having the information for the June 12 Budget Committee meeting.
Williams then amended the motion to recommend a called meeting Thursday, June 13, at 6 p.m., which still does not meet the June 12 deadline.