By Collin Brooks
Reflections and a bit of Monday morning quarterbacking went on for a few members of the Johnson City School System on Monday night as a four long-term members of the school system had their final meeting before retiring at the end of the month.
Johnson City Superintendent of Schools Dr. Richard Bales, Supervisor of Instruction and Facilities Dave Chupa, Executive Assistant to the Superintendent Evelyn Dugger and Director of Finance Pam Cox all sat through their final meeting. All were given a standing ovation during a portion of the meeting, including the final one of the night for Dugger.
Johnson City School Board of Education Vice Chairman Kathy Hall said that the system would miss each of the retirees.
“They’ve been tremendous supporters of public education and the students in Johnson City have done tremendous work to keep us where we are. Which is at the top of the state,” Hall said. “So all of them will be missed and have made contributions in their own way.”
Dr. Bales was honored with a Senate Proclamation that was read by Johnson City Board of Education member Dr. Richard Manahan.
Bales took time during the meeting to thank numerous people, but he also took time to speak directly into the crowd, perhaps more directly at the next director Dr. Steve Barnett as he critiqued a few of his past decisions, including “neglecting” some things he could have addressed with the International Baccalaureate program at Science Hill.
Chupa was the first to give his committee report, saying it would be a busy summer for the school as they start routine maintenance of roofs, painting and remodeling. But he cautioned the board that the need to start looking at some of their larger capital projects earlier, so that it would take some of the pressure off of their maintenance department.
He said some of the remodeling that will be done at Towne Acres over the summer could be hard to fit in such a small time frame. Chupa also mentioned that plans had been drawn for a new cafeteria and gymnasium building at Liberty Bell that is estimated to cost $8 million. The board will request to see the drawings during their August meeting — the July meeting has been canceled.
But he started his message to the board by expressing his appreciation setting up three of the biggest barriers in his life.
“You all have set up three of the greatest challenges in my life,” Chupa said. “Number one, when I walked in 1973 to a sixth grade classroom of 40 students at Keystone. I was overwhelmed, but very glad for the opportunity to be in the classroom and teach. In 2001, when I went in and sat down in the seat of the principal of Science Hill High School and looked around a minute and said, ‘Can I really do this?’
“And then thirdly, the opportunity in 2007 when we started the building projects and the learning plan. I wasn’t a contractor and I knew education, but I didn’t know construction. But I certainly learned over the years and am very proud of what you all have enabled us to accomplish.”
Cox took her walk to the podium, with a normal stack of papers swallowing her hands, and also a balanced budget.
“I wanted to go out with more reports than I could stack on the podium,” she joked as she took the microphone.
She noted she wasn’t going to reminiscence until Chupa peaked her interest in doing so.
“I just want to say that I have been very blessed to be here the past 18 years,” she told the board, noting she calculated this to be close to her 300th regular school board meeting.
One of her biggest challenges, she said, was fighting city hall to get the system’s books back, which she was commended for by Manahan during the meeting.
But it wouldn’t have been a recent board of education meeting without the mentioning of Washington County. They first came up when Cox mentioned that the county had failed to remit either the city or the school system sales tax in April. There should have been over $162,867.26 for the city’s quarter cent, and over $113,402.59 should have been for the city schools.
But she said, the county has been going through trouble with the switching of their computer system because they have normally been timely with their payments in the past.
Manahan wasn’t thrilled hearing excused for the county.
“If you can present a document that you can save $10 million a year, then why can’t you do something to get the money to us that belongs to us,” he said.
Manahan also brought up the county when he asked, again, for a copy of the interlocal-agreement between the city and the county that failed in the legislator this year. He acknowledged that it failed, but also said they asked for a copy and that the school board needs to know what it is.
BOE member Jonathan Kinnick went on to explain his understanding BOE member the bill would close a state law that allows the county to pay for items deemed “one-time expenditures” without having to borrow the city’s share.
“The real issue to me is that if it’s city money, is it earmarked for education? Does the law say that? That’s the question I have,” Manahan said.
He said he wants legal counsel to review that document and tell them what the content is and where the funds go. Hall agreed to try and have that provided at the groups August meeting.
Dr. Barnett also made his first recommendation, as the school system superintendent, including a memo to the board requesting that the city now pay a $60 per diem for teachers to travel to professional development. The state recommends the $60 mark for travel to Nashville, which is where most Johnson City teachers from the Johnson City System go. Johnson City moved their per diem up from $54.