Kingsport Times-News: Sullivan BOE OKs West Ridge change orders
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Sullivan BOE OKs West Ridge change orders

Rick Wagner • Mar 6, 2019 at 3:30 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s school board has gone on record opposing legislation that would allow retention votes on board-appointed superintendents and directors of schools, and it has approved change orders for the new West Ridge High School.

The board Tuesday night also heard from a public commenter and a board member upset with “value engineering” on West Ridge and another commenter saying the system is whitewashing what she called serious mold problems at Indian Springs Elementary School and Sullivan North High/Middle.

WHAT WAS RETENTION QUESTION VOTE?

The board voted 5-2, with Mark Ireson and Paul Robinson voting no, to oppose Tennessee House and Senate legislation (HB 0301 and SB 0019) that would allow local governing bodies, county commissions or city councils/boards of mayor and aldermen, by a two-thirds vote to put a sitting appointed superintendent on a retention ballot in a general election. If the vote went against the superintendent or director, he or she would serve out the rest of the contract, but that board could not renew the contract and would have to appoint another superintendent or director.

“I think that the people need the chance to vote,” Ireson said, adding that he understands the argument for appointed school heads and that the system couldn’t have a better director than the retiring Evelyn Rafalowski, who has almost 42 years with the system. However, he said all other major department heads and officials in the county are elected.

After the meeting, Robinson said he believes more public input is better on retaining or choosing a director. There is no legislation this year to allow the positions to become elected as they were before the law changed in the late 1990s.

WHAT ABOUT THE CHANGE ORDERS AND “VALUE ENGINEERING?”

Ireson and public commenter Jason Horton decried the value engineering changes at West Ridge, although maintenance and custodial supervisor Charlie Hubbard and Rafalowski said it is done to save money without hurting the quality of the school. Extra expenses for rock removal and deducts in the construction budget, both more than $300,000, came very close to cancelling one another out in Change Order No. 2.

“We were promised a Rolls Royce on the school,” Horton said. “We could possibly get a Dodge Neon with hubcap spinners.”

He said the placement of the school was a ploy to get the proposed state Route 357 extension and residential development for the city of Kingsport.

“I’m afraid we’re going to cut into quality,” Ireson said of value engineering or “corner cutting” on the school. “We promised them we were going to build a jewel,” Ireson said. “Even though I opposed the high school, I want to make it the best we can.”

He said after the meeting he is OK with some changes, like using regular instead of stamped concrete for football stadium steps, but not others, including cutting the HVAC warranty from five to two years.

WHAT’S THE ISSUE WITH MOLD TESTING?

Juanita Housewright of the Indian Springs area complained the school system’s recent airborne tests for Stachybotrys chartarum or toxic “black mold” were not sufficient based on industry, Centers for Disease Control and Environmental Protection Agency standards. North tests picked up nine black mold spores among four classrooms before remediation and none afterward, while Indian Springs tests showed no black mold.

“They all recommend against air testing for that,” Housewright said, adding that HVAC duct tests should have been done instead. She said tests found nine types of mold on the outside of Indian Springs but 17 types inside, including ones that often co-located with Stchybotrys. “You all have reported that is safe,” Housewright said.

Housewright says her daughter died in 2017 after exposure to black mold toxins at Indian Springs, and North High teacher Michael Upchurch recently filed a $21 million lawsuit alleging black mold at North sickened him multiple times.

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