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Committee tackles school consolidation task force

During last week’s meeting, members of the Health, Education and Welfare Committee took the first stab at identifying members for a Johnson City/Washington County School Consolidation Task Force.
Also in attendance were both mayors and the county director of schools.
“I’ve promoted the dialogue for years,” Ron Dykes said. “There has always been a wedge between the four bodies that need to be involved.”
Dykes recommended a study by a third party to determine the advantages. “You have to know first if you’re going to increase educational quality and operational efficiency,” he said. “I don’t know about saving money in the short-term, but I think it’s something we can’t afford not to do.”
Commissioner Skip Oldham said the task force needs open-minded individuals who wouldn’t be coming in with preconceived conclusions. “In my opinion, we don’t have the money to maintain two school systems,” he said.
According to Commissioner Todd Hensley, many of his constituents are in favor of consolidation. “We at least need to have this discussion before we jump into an $80 million building program,” he said. “I don’t think waiting one year would (negatively impact) a 20-year plan.”
Hensley suggested including representatives from the school systems for their inside knowledge, in addition to community members.
Mayor Dan Eldridge said the criteria that must be considered will require experts in the following areas: Title 49 – to explain school funding requirements and restrictions; financial modeling – to realistically present the cost and benefits of consolidation; transportation and logistics – to examine issues such as combining bus services; facilities – to determine the condition, capacity and repurposing of all school facilities; and curriculum – to ensure adherence to state standards.
“You need this before you can address consolidation from an informed perspective to determine whether it is feasible,” Eldridge said.
Hensley said a collaborative process between the city and county commissions and school systems would go a lot further than a task force. “We’re not reinventing the wheel,” he said. “This has been done before, and the logistics can be figured out.”
Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin said the Johnson City commissioners have not given him the go-ahead, but he hopes to have the conversation during one of their upcoming meetings. “If you want to take the reins, that may be better than both bodies appointing people,” he said. “I would just as soon not be involved in setting up the task force.”
Van Brocklin stressed involving school officials at the highest level, in addition to county government representatives. “Once you decide how to move forward, let me know and we will figure out how to choose our people,” he said.
Commissioner Gary McAllister recommended involving someone who took part in earlier discussion related to consolidation. “We need a champion to head the task force.”
In preparation for the next meeting, committee members voted to each bring the names of three candidates for nomination to the task force.