Parents urge Sullivan BOE to delay school closings

Rick Wagner • Feb 12, 2009 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Some parents and local leaders Thursday night urged the Sullivan County Board of Education to delay or avoid proposed school closings and rezonings.

However, BOE member Jack Bales at the same meeting said the proposed savings of almost $1 million from those changes barely scratches the surface of the $6 million to $7 million in cuts he said needs to be made.

Bales, without specifying which additional schools should be closed or rezoned, challenged Director of Schools Jack Barnes and his staff to come up with more detailed scenarios for what might happen after the potential closure of Cedar Grove, Akard and Valley Pike elementary schools and rezoning students from overcrowded Colonial Heights Middle School, which uses modular classrooms, to under-utilized Sullivan Middle School.

However, BOE member Dan Wells said he believed one such proposal — the idea of turning Sullivan North High School into a K-8 campus and splitting North’s 9-12 students between South and Central high schools — would in no way be considered by the BOE when it votes on the school closings March 2.

“What we’re proposing here is nothing reflective of what came out in this paper,” Wells said, gesturing to a Thursday article in the Kingsport Times-News. The article focused on comments by County Commissioner Sam Jones of Colonial Heights that he has heard community interest in making North K-8.

“We have these (other) proposals in front of us, and they are adequate,” Wells said.

Technically still on the table is a proposal to split middle-schoolers from Mary Hughes Middle and Elementary School between two other schools, one in the Central High zone instead of East High, but the board made that a moot point by unanimously voting Thursday night to remove modular units from Mary Hughes after the administration said it could handle all students inside the main building.

During public comment, North zone parent Mary Banks said the newspaper article “really upset me” and students because the North zone has lost Gravely Elementary and Lynn View Middle School and stands to lose Cedar Grove.

“They (students) don’t understand why the North zone keeps taking these hits,” Banks said.

Bales, who proposed making North K-8 in 2004, did not directly address the idea Thursday night. However, Bales said a $138,000 two-phase report from Knoxville consultants on building conditions and enrollment projections shows the school system needs to make major changes and abandon buildings it no longer needs.

County Commissioners Dwight King of Piney Flats and Bill Kilgore of Kingsport said the board had to make tough choices.

“You’re the professional here. That’s what we pay you for,” Bales told Barnes. “There’s too much money being tied up in facilities we don’t need.”

As part of closing Cedar Grove, an option before the board would move Cedar Grove students to Kingsley and Brookside elementary schools and move fourth-graders from all three schools to Ketron Intermediate.

From there, one path is to make the 8-12 North a 7-12 school, and another is to make Ketron 4-7. However, critics have said moving seventh-graders to North allows too much possibility of commingling with older students, even though the proposal calls for a middle school within a high school.

During public comment, County Commissioner Randy Morrell asked the BOE to consider delaying the closure of Valley Pike Elementary in the East High zone five or six years until the county builds a new elementary-middle school complex to replace Valley Pike and Weaver elementary schools and Holston Valley Middle School.

Cynthia Loving, an Akard parent in the Central zone, urged the BOE to delay closing Akard on the outskirts of Bristol and moving kids to Blountville schools just because the area may be annexed.

In the North zone, Cedar Grove parent Lisa Broadwater said the BOE should “grow” the community and its schools instead of closing another school and prompting parents to sell homes and move away, which she said is in the process of happening.

And in the South zone, Mark Hagy and Mike Ervin of the Peppertree subdivision said it was unfair their children in Colonial Heights Middle School faced the prospect of four schools in four years — being rezoned to Sullivan Middle School this fall, being annexed by Kingsport after that, and going to the city’s Robinson Middle School a year before heading to Dobyns-Bennett High School the next year.

However, current school board policy, passed in 2006, allows students annexed after that time to stay in the county system.

Board Chairman Ron Smith announced a series of meetings to address the proposed changes in each high school zone, following up on meetings already held in all but the South zone.

The meetings, which will run from 6 to 7:30 p.m., are set for Feb. 17 at North High, Feb. 19 at Blountville Middle School, Feb. 25 at Holston Valley Middle School, and Feb. 26 at Sullivan Middle School.

Board member Jim Kiss of Bloomingdale objected to the North meeting, saying the board and administration had met earlier at Akard and Valley Pike, but only he and Wells attended the Cedar Grove meeting. Wells said by that precedent, Cedar Grove parents deserved a meeting with the board and Barnes at their school.

Smith said North was chosen to handle an expected large crowd.

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