Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

County questions workshop’s purpose

The Johnson City Board of Education’s invitation to a workshop on school funding may have been extended to the wrong legislative body.
Despite having met with the county’s Health Education and Welfare Committee as recently as November, Chair Kathy Hall told county commissioners the purpose of the Jan. 22 workshop was to open a conversation on education.
Mayor Dan Eldridge said a conversation about the $1,175 disparity in per-pupil funding between city and county students has been underway for more than a year, and the strongest capacity to increase funds for education lies with the sales tax base.
“Recognizing that Johnson City controls the sales tax, I don’t know why they were talking with us,” he said.
The Johnson City BOE argued the system only receives a flat appropriation from the 86 percent of sales tax distributed to Johnson City, but Eldridge pointed out the ability to increase that appropriation is directly related to the remainder of sales tax, estimated at more than $20 million, that goes to the city’s general fund.
Washington County has committed its full 7 percent of sales tax to education. “If the school board is looking for additional sources of revenue, they need to talk to the city.”
More than that, Eldridge said members of the two school boards are the ones who should be at the table. “I think we’re all in agreement that educational attainment is the key to the long-term economic viability of Washington County,” he said. “They need to collaborate on ways to share resources and technology to educate all 17,000 kids because the opportunity to grow the school budgets at 2 percent per year is not possible.”
Superintendent Richard Bales made a presentation on the achievements and finances of the Johnson City system during the workshop. Included were statistics comparing sales and property taxes collected and distributed throughout the county, and per-pupil expenditures across the state.
His numbers indicate the general purpose school fund receives 37 percent of its support from the county and 18 percent from the city. The presentation ended with the top needs for 2016 and an unspecified request for more funding.
Commission Chair Greg Matherly asked if the system has a five-year facilities plan.
Bales said yes, but he was unable to share any information because he has not yet presented it to the school board or city leaders.
“Without going into details, we expect growth in the north and south, though the only real capacity issue is Indian Trail because we’re out of room to expand,” he said. “It’s a growing bottleneck though not an immediate need.”
Following comments on what could be expected from the state, Eldridge said the local funding is the only element that can be impacted.
“That’s what the focus of this discussion should be on because we have no control over state and federal funding,” he said, noting the $1,175 disparity is unacceptable.
“As a community, that’s the issue we have to address,” he said. “We need to get on the same page because Washington County taxpayers have the responsibility for educating all 17,000 students, and that’s what will be necessary for success.”
Bales met the comment by thanking everyone for attending the workshop.
“Would you react to what the mayor just said?” Commissioner Joe Wise asked.
Bales said the basic difference between the two systems is the amount of money the city kicks in.
When Eldridge said the county has no ability to solve the problem and no way to close the disparity, Bales said it is a matter of voting for it.
“To do what you’re saying is a $10 million tax increase on the rural taxpayer,” Eldridge said, a move that would more than double the current property tax rate.
“I didn’t say it was popular,” Bales responded.