Sullivan County panel lets school bond issue ride pending completion of study

J. H. Osborne • Jul 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee voted “no action” Thursday on a proposal to rescind — or reverse — commission action last year that authorized the issuance of $50 million in bonds for school building projects.

No bonds have been issued, and were not expected to have been issued at this point. The resolution authorizing a bond issue, approved by the full commission in January 2007, carried with it several stipulations — including completion of a study by an outside consultant of long-term school system needs.

The resolution to rescind that authorization debuted at the Budget Committee’s monthly meeting Thursday. Neither of its listed sponsors, Commissioners Wayne McConnell and O.W. Ferguson, attended the meeting.

Budget Committee Chairman Eddie Williams said he assumed the resolution is on “first reading” this month. That means no vote is expected to be called for when the full commission meets July 21.

Williams said there’s really no need for such a resolution, because in reality the bond-issue authorization OK’d by the commission in January only approved the concept — and an actual bond issue would require another resolution and another commission vote.

Some other Budget Committee members said the resolution to rescind was somewhat premature, or presumptuous, because the study of long-term school needs isn’t yet complete.

The second phase of that study should be completed by mid-August, county officials were told last month.

This portion of the study will assess the physical structures that make up the county’s K-12 school system.

As of last month’s progress update on the study, the county’s four high schools had been visited and assessed in five key areas: architecture; structural; site (parking, walks, landscaping, aesthetics, expansion capabilities, etc.); mechanical (utilities, plumbing; HVAC, energy conservation, code issue); and electrical.

A group steering the process agreed they would reconvene for another progress report once the county’s middle schools have been assessed — and a similar status report meeting will follow once assessments are completed for the county school system’s elementary schools.

Consultants conducting the assessments said they planned to finish on-site visits by the middle of this month, and take another 30 days to put the details in report form. They said they would then “inundate” county commissioners with information about the schools.

The study’s first phase wrapped up earlier this year. It produced a 131-page report outlining current and projected enrollment throughout the school system.

It showed there’s more “surplus” than “shortage” when it comes to gauging whether or not Sullivan County’s school system has enough room — now, and in the next 10 years, a period in which the system’s overall student population is projected to keep dropping.

County officials could use that report — along with the results of the ongoing facilities assessment phase — to decide key “efficiency” questions for operating the school system, such as whether some schools should be closed, consolidated, renovated, rezoned or replaced with new buildings.

The combined information could ultimately provide a strategy for spending a $50 million bond issuance supported by a majority of county commissioners in early 2007.

In all, the County Commission agreed to spend up to $132,000 for both phases of the study.

It is called a “Partnership for Educational Facilities Assessment,” prepared as a joint effort of the Knox County Public Building Authority and the Knoxville Metropolitan Planning Commission.

In January 2007, 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.

The full report from the study’s first phase, as well as a Power Point presentation shown to county officials last month, is available online at www.knoxmpc.org/pefa/sullivan/index.htm.

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