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Jonesborough deserves its new school right now

Jonesborough is a 21st century community with citizens who go to work every day and have families with school-age children while maintaining the heritage and history of a truly unique place. It is Tennessee’s oldest town.

The town is governed by a board of mayor and aldermen who oversee a long list of  functions required to provide the amenities for modern living with one exception – the municipality’s school system is operated by Washington County.

The arrangement is not unique – county government also assists in the operation of a school on the campus of East Tennessee State University.

In an analysis that would take too long for this editorial, the State of Tennessee has a funding formula when separate school systems are present within a county  – the formula being subject to the vagaries of the political system. In several metropolitan areas of the state, it has been recognized that the caprice of politics can result in unfairness to students. The solution has been to combine city and county schools into a unified school district.

Resistance to a unified solution to funding for students in Washington County is of long standing despite the realization that county teachers are paid less and that certain areas of the county have parents and thus their children who are impoverished.

Notwithstanding the disparity in economic conditions when contrasting city and county residents’ paychecks, the Washington County School Board has continually worked to provide modern educational benefits to county students, the most recent example of which is the Boones Creek School.   

In all fairness to Johnson City residents, the new K-8 school is part of the present problem. In the financing mix, there was supposed to be funding for a new Jonesborough school – with millions of dollars available. Somehow, that funding seems to have disappeared.

The Jonesborough schools along a busy highway more suited for commercial activity than learning have leaky roofs, an outdated round school teaching concept, and grounds not well suited for outdoor recreational and athletic activities. The existence of one well-constructed, new Boones Creek School in one area of the county in contrast to an outdated complex in another has created, in our opinion, an “educational emergency.”

The oldest town in the state has not been hit by a tornado or a flood. If one had occurred, we do not doubt that major financial assistance and relief would be forthcoming from Johnson City residents. Yet a walk through the present Jonesborough facilities with close inspection reveals real challenges with maintaining an up-to-date learning experience for the county’s next generation of tax-paying citizens and civic leaders.

The “emergency” is solvable thanks to some creative application of Tennessee’s laws that permit the Town of Jonesborough to build an educational complex and lease the facilities back to Washington County. While Johnson City is attempting to cry “foul,” it makes us wonder why public officials and civic leaders in Johnson City, including the Chamber of Commerce, through the years have been willing to grant tax forgiveness (sometimes referred to as tax incentive financing) to any foreign company that dangles the prospect of adding a few jobs to the area’s workforce yet feel “cheated” by the prospect of not sharing in the funds necessary to support Jonesborough’s need for a new school.

Does Johnson City not realize that people who live in Jonesborough also work and visit retail and other business establishments in their city adding thousands of dollars to the city in sales tax revenue? Are Johnson City residents willing to watch Jonesborough struggle to educate its youth in an outdated school setting?

Mentioned earlier was the fact that Jonesborough is a “unique place.” Think of all the activities that take place in the  town, for example, Storytelling, Jonesborough Days, plays at the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre, activities specially designed for senior citizens at a new and spacious facility, a water park, and museums at the Chester Inn, Chuckey Depot and Visitors Center. 

When visitors come to town, if you live in Washington County or the Johnson City, often Jonesborough is the place to go. The host of activities available in the town are made possible only because Jonesborough is a place where its hard-working and friendly citizens volunteer without pay to show others some of what is best about Tennessee.

How about Johnson City volunteering for once to help out Jonesborough in getting a new school? Admittedly, this should be a one-time event. School financing in the future should continue as it has in the past. But an emergency needs to be met. Johnson City should say “yes” and cheer that Jonesborough’s young people can be housed in a new school in the near future.