By MARINA WATERS
The year of 2016 was one of planning for the new Boones Creek K-8 School. And now, 2017 is slated to be the year of breaking ground at the upcoming school’s site.
And that’s something Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge says must remain a priority in order for the school to open in August of 2019.
“Based on what (the school board’s) architect has given as a timeline, there are a lot of decisions that are going to have to be made in the next three months to keep this project on schedule,” Eldridge said. “If we don’t get this stuff out of the way in the next two or three months, it’s certainly going to be in jeopardy.”
So far the county commission has established a fund set aside for the new school while the school board has discussed the location at length and most recently at the last Board of Education meeting on Dec. 8, the new school’s layout. Eldridge said for the new school’s plan to run smoothly, both the county commission and the school board will need to align both groups’ concerns.
“It is so important there is good communication and collaboration during this process,” Eldridge said. “The county commission knows how much money it has to spend. The school board knows what they want in the way of a facility. There has to be a very deliberate effort made to align those two priorities. I’m disappointed that there hasn’t been more interest in making sure that those two things are aligned from the beginning. If we’re not careful, that’s going to end up being the stumbling block in the next few months.”
Finding common ground wasn’t the only concern from 2016 that will affect the new year; one of the biggest discussions the county commission faced was the tax increase. The tax hike was levied in order to fund the new Boones Creek School as part of the Washington Way plan. Eldridge said it was a decision the commissioners weren’t anxious to make. However, Eldridge is most concerned with seeing tax payers’ investments pay off through the new school.
“It is important that they see a return on that investment. And that’s what is it—it is an investment,” Eldridge said. “We raised taxes to invest in the school system. They need to see a return on that investment, not just in the form of new bricks and mortar, but even more importantly, they need to see a return on that investment in the form of improved student achievements and outcomes, career readiness, college readiness as a result of the Washington Way vision that’s been cast.”
Though the new school will be at the forefront of both the county commission and the school board’s priorities, Eldridge also has other topics he is looking forward to working on in 2017.
Eldridge said establishing a long range, general fund budget plan will help manage expenses from year to year. The financial plan will involve studying how current expenses will affect finances down the road.
“That’s not something that I would say is common in county government in Tennessee, but having that long range plan is invaluable as a management tool,” Eldridge explained. “When you project that into the future budgets, it’s amazing how you see the compounding effect of these recurring expenditures that are being approved. This is just a very important tool that we have to incorporate.”
But with all the talk of budgeting and planning, somehow the conversation with any Washington County school board member, county commissioner, or county official always circles back around to the new Boones Creek School.
“I’m optimistic that we’re gonna get this (the plan for the school) headed in the right direction. I think that long term, it’s gonna make a huge difference in Washington County,” Eldridge said. “Not just in the school system, but for everybody.”