$50 million school funding proposal to include 11-month study period

J. H. Osborne • Jan 11, 2007 at 11:27 AM

BLOUNTVILLE - When Sullivan County commissioners consider a proposal for $50 million to fund school building projects next week, it'll include time for a "study period."

It'll also still carry the endorsement of the County Commission's Budget Committee.

Commissioner Ralph Harr will amend his call for the money to include time for a study of school needs to be conducted, he said Thursday.

When Harr first proposed the bond issue last month, it quickly gained the Budget Committee's endorsement. But in the weeks since, it has failed to gain support from the commission's other two primary committees.

The $50 million Harr seeks would be split among the county's school system, the city of Kingsport's school system, and the Bristol, Tenn., school system. The amount each system would receive would be based on the number of students who attend that system. The money would be split because the debt from the bond issue would be repaid with county property taxes - which are collected on land parcels countywide, in and out of the cities.

Harr said his main goal in asking for the money is to get two new elementary schools built for the county's school system to replace up to four decades-old schools.

There were no "nays" on the proposal from Harr's fellow Budget Committee members last month, and the group let that support stand on Thursday.

But commissioners on the other committees have raised several questions about Harr's proposal. Key concerns include: if the cities - and therefore their school systems - are going to continue to grow, it will be hard for the county to predict where it should build new schools, or if it should build any new schools at all; state mandates could force consolidation of all the school systems in the county within a few years anyway; and without a building plan from the school system, it's hard to say if $50 million will cover the cost of construction needs.

The issue will go before the full commission on Tuesday. It will need 13 votes from the 24-member commission for approval.

Harr said he will amend the proposal to allow an 11-month window of opportunity for a study of long-term school needs. Nothing would be done with the bond issue proceeds until Dec. 1, Harr said - but he wants the commission to go ahead and vote on the matter.

He said what to do to help the county's school system meet future needs has been talked about for too long, and the $50 million bond issue is a step the commission needs to take to spur action.

The commission voted in 2005 to hire an outside consultant to conduct a study of school needs, Harr said - and it hasn't been conducted.

The commission last month formally asked County Mayor Steve Godsey to renew efforts to secure that study. Last week Godsey said he has sought advice from a state agency on locating potential candidates for the job.

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