By MARINA WATERS
The Washington County Board of Education might not have the money in hand for the Daniel Boone High School baseball building project, but the nine-member board passed a motion to begin the bid process anyhow.
Board member Chad Fleenor made the motion at the board’s regularly scheduled Thursday, March 7, meeting to bid out the Boone baseball building project in a 6-3 vote. The motion also included going ahead with the bid process only if it is legal to do so without the full amount for the project in-hand.
“I would like to send this out for bid pending they raise the extra money, which is legal. I checked on that,” Fleenor said. “This does not tie our hands to do anything other than we see how much it’s going to cost to do it.”
The project is estimated to cost $65,000. Fleenor said the baseball team had already raised $30,000 and that Boone’s athletic director planned to use $15,000 from the school’s athletic fund, leaving the project $20,000 short. The school system’s finance director, Brad Hale, said when the board sends out the bid, it would need to include that the bid is pending that the remainder of the funds are raised.
However, some board members had issues with the motion.
Board member Phillip McLain cited Tennessee Code Annotated 49-2-203 as his greatest holdback, which states that a construction project on school grounds must be performed by a qualified construction management service.
“I, for one, don’t want to see us break any laws that could ever put any of our children in harm’s way,” McLain said. “I get calls every week from people at Crockett saying, ‘If you do that over there at Boone, what are you going to do for us over here at this building?’ There’s no end to it.
“They’ve got someone chomping at the bit (at Crockett) to pour a concrete floor (for a multipurpose building). I can’t vote for that either because it doesn’t fit the TCA for what we’re allowed to do on a campus.”
Following McLain’s remarks, Fleenor attempted to amend the motion to take $20,000 from the school system’s fund balance to put towards Boone’s baseball building project. The motion for the amendment failed in a 3-6 vote. Fleenor, David Hammond, and Mitch Meredith were in favor. Annette Buchanan, Jason Day, Mary Beth Dellinger, Keith Ervin, Todd Ganger and Phillip McLain were opposed.
Ganger asked Hale if Boone would have enough left in its athletic fund to cover the rest of the school year’s athletic expenses if $15,000 of it is used for the baseball building. Hale said he thought so. Ganger also added that he felt putting $20,000 in reserve funds towards the project set the wrong precedent.
“They haven’t even come and asked for it. They were going to do fundraisers for it,” Ganger said. “We’re setting a terrible precedent for this stuff. You have to look beyond what’s going on now. You give money to one organization and you have three more coming behind them. They were willing to fundraise and do it and you sat here tonight and said they’d probably have the money by next month. Now you’re making a motion for us to pay for it.”
While some had concerns for the project and the bid process without the full amount for the project in-hand, Hammond said he was ready to see the process started for the project.
“I understand everyone’s concerns, but we keep kicking this can down the road and it’s a legitimate need,” Hammond said. “There have been sports organizations come to us before that raised funds and we’ve matched those funds. I think we have to take it as a case-by-case basis and see where we are fund-wise at that time. Let’s move this along and at least get the bids out there and see where they stand.”
Some felt the fund balance dollars could be better spent on in the classroom.
“When we start just dropping $20,000 here and there, can we not just drop $20,000 on some tablets for some kids that need them and some of those things if we have money like that?,” Day said. “Is it the same money? If it is, I say let’s put it in some classrooms.”
The board can use the fund balance reserves to its discretion, but must keep around $2 million in reserve funds. The most recent audit report lists the school system’s general fund balance at $6,129,043.
Fleenor mentioned that back in November, the board voted to put purchase lights for the softball field at Crockett for $150,000, which came from the fund balance. Fleenor and Ervin both voted in opposition to that motion in November.
“I’m not saying they didn’t need it, but we didn’t turn around and say, ‘$150,000 goes to Daniel Boone to do whatever they want.’ I’m just saying let’s get this project going, the bids will come in back and then you can okay it then. Why do we keep railroading something when Coach Hoover has worked to raise $30,000 for that project?”
Ganger and McLain both added that the softball lights had been an issue for at least 10 years. Meanwhile, board members also voiced a desire to step away from the Crockett or Boone mentality.
“I really wish we could get away from that and just look at each project and remember we’re Washington County,” Hammond said. “All nine of us represent all of Washington County. Every board member up here cares about every student in this county whether they’re at Boone or they’re at Crockett. So we need to leave that off the table.”