By MARINA WATERS
Tears and cheers filled the downstairs meeting room in Jonesborough as the Washington County Board of Education unanimously approved the town’s proposal to build a new Jonesborough K-8 School with community recreational facilities.
“At one point we’ve got to trust that it’s going to work,” Mary Beth Dellinger said. “I support the new school because Jonesborough needs an update. I look forward to serving on the design committee with my perspective as a former educator.”
The proposal, which will now be considered by the county’s Health Education and Welfare Committee on Thursday, Sept. 5, was approved by the board minus Mitch Meredith who was absent due to a family emergency. The motion included removing the Asbury School building from the list of the school board’s properties it would sell in the agreement. The motion also requires that the board’s attorney, Scott Bennett, approve the the two lease agreements if it effects the board’s interests.
Before the crowd of parents, teachers and administrators could rejoice in their orange shirts while holding their “hear me roar” signs, the school board had numerous details to work through related to the agreement between the Town of Jonesborough, Washington County and the school board. For Phillip McLain, the proposal’s details required the greatest deal of attention.
“I want a new school for Jonesborough just like everyone else does,” McLain said. “I think everyone else up here does also. However, when I read through this — I’m a detail kind of guy. I think if you take care of the details, the big things take care of themselves. I’m for the school. I’m for Jonesborough getting a new school, but I have issues (with the proposal).”
The agreement originally included that the front half of the Jonesborough Elementary School property, the Jonesborough Middle School building and the Midway property would be sold by the school board and that those funds would go to the county’s capital improvement fund. The agreement given to the board on Thursday included the sale of Asbury Optional School which, like Midway, is still in use. However, the board removed Asbury from the agreement.
Bennett added that in the revised agreement, the board would have four years from the time the Jonesborough School is built to sell the included properties. Those funds, he said, would first go to the dedicated education fund to replenish the cost of purchasing the furnishings for the new school. Then the funds would be put towards the BOE’s five-year capital improvement plan.
“There’s been some discussion about how much those properties are worth and where does the money go,” Bennett said. “It was my concern that these are school properties. The revenue from the sale of school properties, I believe by law, need to go in the school board’s fund balance. I also believe that the large part of those funds be spent for education purposes.”
The revised plan includes three board members along with a teacher or administrator on the design committee. Originally it included one board member, the director of schools and a teacher or administrator from the Jonesborough schools. Thursday night’s motion included that the three board members who represent the Jonesborough district — Mary Beth Dellinger, Todd Ganger and Phillip McLain — would be on the committee.
As for BOE Chairman Keith Ervin, traffic at the new proposed school site was also a concern.
Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest said the changes the town is already working on would improve traffic patterns. He said a red light and a connector from Smith Lane to Tavern Hill Road is in progress. He also said Tavern Hill Road would be widened and the town plans to improve the Skyline Drive and Tavern Hill Road intersection.
“The way it’s drawn up now, I tell everyone you’ve got four ways in and four ways out of that facility,” Vest said. “You can have two exits onto 11-E going east and west. You’ll have a red light to exit out onto 11-E and you’ll also be able to go west by the justice center. Going out the rear of the property, you’ll be able to use Skyline to get to Jonesborough or go out by Hales Road. I think this will dissipate traffic much better than what we have now.”
Ervin also asked if there was a chance Johnson City would sue the county over the project.
The county is required by law to split education dollars with the county and the city. But in this situation, the town, which has no such requirement by the state, would finance the school. Therefore, the county would not have to borrow — or split — any funds.
“I can’t speak for what the Johnson City School Board might do, but I can say that the agreement that we have drafted for the board’s consideration is completely legal for this board to sign,” Bennett said in response to Ervin’s question. “That’s as far as I can go. I learned a long time ago practice law for your client, not someone else’s client. There’s no question that you all have the authority to enter into this agreement.”
The county’s HEW Committee will discuss the proposal on Thursday, Sept. 5, at 1 p.m. in the first floor conference room of the historic courthouse, 100 E Main St., Jonesborough.