Mitch Meredith (District 3), Chad Fleenor (District 1) and Jason Day (District 3) are the three newest members of the Washington County Board of Education.
By MARINA WATERS
Next month, the Washington County Board of Education will add three new faces and welcome three incumbents back at the half-circle table in central office.
In the Aug. 2 general election, Jason Day was selected as the newest member from District 1 while Chad Fleenor and Mitch Meredith became the newest members in District 3. Meanwhile, Annette Buchanan and Keith Ervin were reelected to District 1 and David Hammond was reelected to District 3. The Herald & Tribune talked to each incumbent and newly elected board member. Meredith, however, could not be reached for comment.
For new BOE members, their role offers a chance to get started on what they see as the most pressing tasks that lie ahead. For both Fleenor and Day, that first task is one that’s not unfamiliar to anyone who has been to a school board meeting in Washington County throughout the past year and a half — the Jonesborough School project.
The project, which was set to include renovations and additions to either the current Jonesborough Elementary or Jonesborough Middle School to form the Jonesborough K-8 School, has seen hold ups, new design plans and multiple split-vote decisions throughout numerous meetings. For Fleenor, he’s hoping to hear more about one of the last plans to be presented by the school’s architect, Tony Street. That plan included renovations and additions to the current middle school building.
“I want to make sure we sit down with Tony to make sure that this latest scheme gets answers to all the questions we have,” Fleenor said. “I want to make sure that this is something that truly is the answer to a lot of the questions and a lot of the problems that they have with Jonesborough School. I want to make sure that everyone is on board instead of just saying, ‘it’s in budget so that’s what we’re going to go with.’”
The design is set to be discussed at the board’s next meeting on Thursday, Aug. 9, which will be the last meeting before new BOE members are added to the board. Though Fleenor said he hopes the board will hold off on a decision for the Jonesborough School until new members can discuss the decision at their first meeting (which will be held in September), Day said he just wants to see a decision made for the Jonesborough School either way.
“I’m fine if they go ahead and make the decision, if they’ll just make one. I don’t have to be the one to make it, I just want someone to make it,” Day said. “If we hold out to get the money to build a new school, I’m afraid that we may not get enough school. I don’t want to build a small school. If we build a new one, I want to make sure we have room.”
Buchanan, Hammond and Ervin all told the Herald & Tribune that the Jonesborough School is still a top priority for the board. However, Buchanan said keeping student-to-teacher ratios low in the school system is a top goal for her, while Hammond listed the search for the next director of schools as an important upcoming task. Ervin said he’d like to look at renovating schools such as Fall Branch and Sulphur Springs in the next 10 years or so.
But school design decisions, new directors and student populations aren’t all that has loomed over the heads of current board members; the board has also been seen as divided following a high number of 5-4 votes throughout the past year regarding various topics, though namely the Jonesborough School decision.
“The way I feel about it, if it’s a 5-4 vote or a 6-3 vote, that’s the way it’s going to be and we’re going to move on,” Ervin said. “I don’t want board members putting other board members down. I’m not going to play that game. We’re going to be united and we’re going to get along. If it’s a 5-4 vote, it’s a 5-4 vote.”
For newcomers, navigating the division could be a task in itself. But it’s something Fleenor and Day said they hope can be addressed in the meetings to come.
“I want to go into it immediately and try to find out what the problem is, what the division is,” Day said. “I want to be an asset. That’s one of the big things I want to do is bring some peace. Right now you’ve got two teams and I don’t want to be on either team. I just want to bring that together and try to make it one unified board where we can actually get some things accomplished. I didn’t really sign up to have a 5-4 vote every time.”
“There is a lot of division among the board,” Fleenor said. “A lot of it is just differences of opinion. I’m not going to fix that. I’m not going to align myself with one side or the other. I just hope we can all have a true conversation about these problems and talk amongst each other and really value everybody’s opinion that is going to be on there.”
The next BOE meeting will be held on Thursday, Aug. 9 at 6:30 p.m. in the Washington County Department of Education’s central office located at 405 W College St., Jonesborough. The next meeting, including new school board members, is set for Thursday, Sept. 6 at 6:30 p.m.
Quotes from our BOE winners
“People have been very vocal in saying, ‘this board, these nine people could not figure (the Jonesborough School) out. Let’s see what the next board can do.’ We just need to hold off and go in with some fresh eyes and we would have that in September.” — Annette Buchanan
“I think they’re all good people. I think they all love the kids. I just think somewhere along the way, it just got personal. They just need to be reminded that it’s not personal.” — Jason Day
“I’ve never blown up once or responded to someone when someone’s made a tax or blown up themselves. I’ll continue to be diplomatic and respect them, regardless of opinion. — David Hammond
“I don’t want nobody else putting my school board down. I’ve had commissioners say we’re not united and all this and all that. I’m not going to let the mayor, or commissioners, or whoever put the school board down.” — Keith Ervin
“I’d like to see everything we vote on be 9-0, but I know that’s not possible because we’re people. We’re humans. If we disagree, I hope we can agree to disagree, but at the end of the night go home and feel like we really made a difference for the kids.” — Chad Fleenor