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Federal funding hikes in schools leads to expansions/updates

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

The Johnson County School system has been expanding and growing slightly despite hardships related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent records showed an increase in government funding because of increased enrollment. Funding from ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) is also helping local education to update equipment on both a small and large scale. As the community grows, so do local funding and possibilities.

One of the larger projects is the Mountain City Elementary (MCE) School expansion. MCE is the second-largest elementary school in Johnson County in size and the largest in population. Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox explained that they were “out of space.” Now officials are planning a $3.5 million project turning the current gym into classrooms and building a new gym.

The current quantity of grants has school officials transferring temporary funds equalling $1 million to the trustee’s office. Under the Comptroller’s guidance many years ago, Johnson County started keeping $300,000 in this fund but needed to bump up the amount to keep the schools and trustee’s office from appearing over budget. These funds work as a placeholder while waiting for federal reimbursements.

“We’re getting huge bills we can’t cover,” said Johnson County School Finance Director Tina Lipford while explaining why the funds needed to move. “It’s putting everyone in the red.”

Purchases such as the recent Chromebooks or educational television purchases equal around $300,000 to $400,00 on their own, which would exceed the monthly budget despite having the funding available. According to Elementary and Federal Programs Supervisor Angie Wills, schools have received approximately $10 million in ESSER funds and expect a minimum of $6 million more.

Moving forward, Johnson County Schools plans even more updates. The School Board approved a $92,897 bid to manufacture arena lights for the Paul H. McEwen Stadium and another $130,000 to $150,000 for installation. Johnson County Schools Secondary Supervisor Dr. Stephen Long explained that Mountain Electric warns the crossbeams on the current fixtures are becoming a safety hazard. Officials are also updating school zone signage for $19,983, wholly funded through UTRUST so that each school has noticeable flashing lights to indicate when the speed limit change is in effect.

For more information about Johnson County Schools, its projects, and upcoming events, visit jocoed.net. View previously streamed events such as School Board meetings and graduation at the Johnson County Schools TN Video YouTube channel.