Study will help Sullivan make 'hard decisions' on schools

J. H. Osborne • Jan 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — It’ll be a couple more months before the first part of a potentially two-part study of Sullivan County’s school system is complete, county officials were told Thursday.

They also were told not to expect a cut-and-dried instruction list — no “close this school” or “build a new school here.” The final report from the study will instead be a “tool kit” to help county officials “start making hard decisions on what you want to do with your schools,” a member of the study group said.

A draft report of phase one is expected at the group’s next scheduled meeting with county officials on Feb. 14.

A final version will hopefully come a month later, said Jeff Galyon, director of property development for the Knox County Public Building Authority (KPBA).

The Sullivan County Commission voted in July 2007 to contract with the KPBA for the school study.

Galyon said the study remains very much in the information gathering phase.

“We’re very far away from any assumptions about anything,” Galyon said.

Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey said “it’s kind of like building an outhouse — and we’ve bought the wood.”

Godsey, Superintendent of Sullivan County Schools Glenn Arwood, Sullivan County Board of Education member Jerry Greene, school system staff, other county officials, and nine of the county’s 24 county commissioners met Thursday with Galyon and other KPBA and Knox County/Knoxville Metropolitan Planning Commission (KMPC) staffers in what was described as the third “status report” since the study began.

The KPBA and the KMPC work in tandem to produce PEFAs. That stands for “Partnership for Educational Facilities Assessment,” according to the Knox County MPC’s Web site — which includes results of similar studies completed by the two organizations for Knox and Loudon counties.

Preliminary portions of the Sullivan County study, distributed Thursday, indicate city annexations are not to blame for the county school system’s declining student population:

• “Since 2002, Sullivan County systemwide enrollment declined 768 students. If current city system students living in areas annexed since 2002 were added back into the Sullivan County system this year, only 57 students would be returned, and the net loss would still be 711 students over the six-year period. The bulk of the decline is attributed to changing demographics in Sullivan County and older (1990s) annexations, not recent annexations. Areas annexed in the 1990s still have many school-age children. However, those children are in areas no longer part of the Sullivan County system. The remainder of the Sullivan County service area is comprised of families with fewer or declining numbers of school children, while the growth areas are now parts of Bristol and Kingsport.”

• In 2002 the county school system had total enrollment of 12,807. This year the number is 12,039.

• There are currently about 1,200 students, total, in Kingsport and Bristol city school systems (845 and 347, respectively), with home addresses annexed by the cities between 1990 and 2007. But only 63 of those are from annexations that happened in the last eight years (four in Kingsport and 59 in Bristol).

• When the city of Kingsport annexed the Lynn Garden area, the city and county school systems reached an agreement to allow residents of that area to choose which system their children would attend. Current enrollment figures show: only 2.8 percent of elementary students in the area choose county schools today; 10.8 percent of middle school students do so; and 36.2 percent of high school students opt for the county system.

•The city of Kingsport’s Rock Springs annexation plan will affect as many as 436 currently county students: 171 this year; 58 more next year; another 116 in 2010; and 91 in 2011.

• KMPC staff said 2000 marked a downturn in annexations by both cities, and in the years since both have drastically slowed the amount of residentially zoned land being annexed.

•About 350 students who live in county school zones are paying tuition to attend city school systems — but about 280 students who live in city zones are attending county schools.

• Enrollment at private schools has had a fairly small impact on enrollment in the county system.

• The three fastest-growing areas of Sullivan County outside city boundaries are in county school zones for Bluff City, Indian Springs and Mary Hughes elementary schools.

• Countywide, including within the cities, there were about 15,300 new housing units constructed between 1990 and 2006. Of that total, about 8,300, or 54.3 percent, were “single dwelling detached” — the category with the most impact on student population projections. On average each of those units will generate 0.3 school-age children, compared to an average of 0.05 for the “multi-dwelling” (apartment) category.

• That means for every 10 new single-family homes built, an estimated three school-age children will be generated, compared to one school-age child for every 20 apartment units constructed.

•Mobile homes generate roughly the same number of school-age children as “single dwelling detached” units. Of the about 15,300 housing units new to Sullivan County (including the cities) between 1990 and 2006, about 4,500, or 29.4 percent, were mobile homes.

• The average number of both “single dwelling detached” and mobile homes added each year, countywide, has declined since 2000, compared to the 1990s. Between 1990 and 1999, an average of 521 “single dwelling detached” homes were built each year, countywide. Between 2000 and 2006, the average number dropped to 441.

• Forty percent of new homes are being built in the Kingsport and Bristol areas.

The much-discussed study of the school system’s long-term needs got under way in October and could ultimately provide a strategy for spending a $50 million bond issuance supported by a majority of county commissioners about a year ago.

The cost: up to $132,000.

The first phase ($71,500) will focus on utilization of current school facilities, city annexation plans, and attempt to predict where school enrollment will grow — or decline — in the years ahead. School officials have been giving the PBA such information as bus routes, numbers of classrooms at individual schools, and numbers of students at individual schools.

Phase two (not to exceed $61,500) of the study would include evaluation of actual buildings, based on which schools phase one says will be needed.

Last January, the commission voted in favor of the $50 million bond issue, at least in concept. The issue was championed by the late Commissioner Ralph Harr. That vote included no time frame for when the bonds would be issued.

The $50 million would be split among the county’s school system, Kingsport’s city school system, and Bristol Tennessee’s city school system. The amount each system would receive would be based on average daily attendance in each system. Tennessee law requires that the money be split because city residents also pay county property taxes — which would be used to pay back the $50 million.

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