Johnson City, Washington County school board members, parents react to potential funding cut

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JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) – A Washington County Commission proposal could mean millions of dollars being taken out of the Johnson City and Washington County school systems.

The commission has scheduled a “special called meeting” on Thursday at 6 p.m. to discuss the FY22 budget. It is expected that commissioners will vote on a measure that could cut $1.6 million from Washington County Schools and $1.4 million from Johnson City Schools, totaling about $3.1 million.

The Washington County School Board met Tuesday night to discuss a number of issues, but focused at length on the budget issue.

“Technically speaking it won’t affect our budget this year because it’s already set,” Washington County Schools Chief Financial Officer Brad Hale said. “But had I known we were going to a $1.6 million funding cut there are certainly think there are changes we would’ve made in our recommendations for the budget this year.”

Johnson City Schools parent and former school board member Paula Treece was shocked when she first learned about the proposal on Sunday night.

“Every ten years, that’s $30 million that could be taken away from education,” Treece said. “To take those monies away now, just seems ludicrous.”

The potential decision could mean a reduction in fund balances for the two systems.

“They were banking on these monies,” Treece said. “We’re one week before budgets are completed and now they have to go back and redo this if they [the commission] choose to do that.”

Johnson City School Board Chair Kathy Hall said the move, if passed, comes at the wrong time for schools.

“The year that education has had has been a very difficult one,” Hall. “This seems like a very interesting time to cut funding.”

Treece shared the opinion.

“Our schools need all the money they can get so they can gear up and be full-on in the fall,” Treece said.

These school systems are funded by property tax and state sales tax. A portion of school revenue comes specifically from the local option sales tax.

A state mandate requires that half of the revenue generated from local option sales tax goes to schools.

Johnson City, Jonesborough and Watauga all collect 2.5 percent local option sales tax, according to a Tennessee state document. With the state mandate, it means 1.25 percent of sales tax goes to Johnson City and Washington County Schools.

The unincorporated areas of Washington County, however, had opted to put the full 2.5 percent to those schools. That has been in place since 1990.

But now, the Washington County Commission is considering taking that extra 50 percent back to help fund a shortfall in the Washington County General Fund balance.

The General Fund’s balance is meant to cover extra money for four months of the county’s operating expenses.

Washington County School Board member and county Director of Finance and Administration Mitch Meredith said the decrease is not very large in the grand scheme of the system.

“The school system’s total budget is close to 77 million, so a 1.5 million on that is not a big percentage,” Meredith said. “The county budget committee and commission is having to look at how they manage and balance revenues and resources across the county in all departments.”

Treece had concern losing the money could have tough implications for Johnson City Schools’ own fund balance.

“We have a policy that we need to have two months of operating expenses in our fund balance, and that could take away from that,” Treece said.

Hall showed concerned for what the potential cut could mean for the system’s ability to attract new teachers and increase teacher wages. She said 83 percent of funding goes to staff and teachers.

Treece said she spoke with many area parents concerned who were also concerned with the potential cut. She expects many parents to speak their opinion at Thursday’s meeting.

“It’s not a done deal yet,” Hall said. Maintenance of effort regulations could come into play, Hall said. That regulation stated the county cannot decrease funding unless there is a decrease in the number of students.

The Washington County Commission special meeting will take place 6 p.m. Thursday night in Courtroom 7 of the George Jaynes Courtroom Building in Jonesborough.

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