Parents seek delay in rezoning students from Colonial Heights to Sullivan Middle

Rick Wagner • Feb 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Two Colonial Heights Middle School parents urged Sullivan County school officials to delay rezoning students from that school to the under-utilized Sullivan Middle School.

During a community meeting held Thursday night at Sullivan Middle School, they cited uncertainty and angst over Kingsport’s annexation plans in Rock Springs and Colonial Heights, adding that a projected $850 in savings wasn’t worth uprooting 125 to 136 children just to get rid of six modular units in use at Colonial Heights.

On the other hand, Sullivan Middle parents and supporters spoke about continuing improvements and strong community support at the school — the former Sullivan West High School.

Sullivan Middle has 176 students and a functional capacity of 472 compared to 552 students at Colonial Heights Middle with a functional capacity — with six modular units — of 591.

The potential rezoning is part of a series of scenarios the Sullivan County Board of Education will address at its Monday meeting, scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. at the Education Building in Blountville.

The proposals includes one to close Cedar Grove Elementary School in Bloomingdale and move those students to two other elementary schools, shift all fourth-graders in the Sullivan North High School zone to Ketron Intermediate School, and move the seventh grade from Ketron to to North High School.

That proposal represents about half the more than $900,000 the entire plan would save.

Other scenarios call for closing Akard Elementary west of Bristol and Valley Pike Elementary east of Bristol.

Thursday’s community meeting was scheduled by the BOE to give parents in the Sullivan South High School zone the opportunity to talk with and ask questions of the school board, Director of Schools Jack Barnes and Central Office staff.

Mark Hagy and Mike Ervin, Peppertree subdivision residents whose children would be affected by the rezoning, said the city’s pending annexation plans for their area could uproot their children from Colonial Heights to Sullivan and then to Robinson Middle School and Dobyns-Bennett High School.

Bales, however, said the annexations likely would be challenged in court and might take 18 months to two years to become effective.

Hagy presented a petition with 182 signatures opposing the rezoning with the promise of more, asking the board to grandfather affected children already in the system or just delay the whole thing a few years.

“I know they (the modulars) need to be replaced,” Hagy said. “But I don’t think all six can be taken out at once.”

Barnes said the safety of students, in light of a modular all but demolished by high winds at Kingsley Elementary School in Bloomingdale in 2004, is behind the proposal.

Hagy suggested forming community foundations to help finance school improvements and seeking additional county funding. Barnes said the BOE hopes to get support for a proposed $50 million bond issue for school building and renovation projects.

Barnes also said the system, at the behest of County Mayor Steve Godsey, has compiled more than $80 million in potential renovations and building projects that could be funded by the federal economic stimulus plan championed by President Obama.

Ervin said doing the rezoning now, combined with annexations, might drive students and $4,900 a year in state funding that follows each of them into Kingsport schools.

“As a board, I don’t know that you have the data to make the right decision,” Ervin said.

He also questioned sending students from Colonial Heights — a building with a condition ranked at a 72 or C by a county-funded study — to Sullivan Middle — ranked as a 60 or D by that study.

In addition, Ervin said projections show that Colonial Heights Middle’s student population would fall to 485 in three years without the rezoning.

Former school principal Steve Thompson said the school has strong community financial and volunteer support, including a new gym air conditioner paid for half by community donations and half by the school system. That system went in after the evaluation of the building condition.

Sullivan parent Chip Childress talked of a “gradual rebuilding cycle” at the school that has taken root, and former County Commissioner Ray Conkin said the school has great parent involvement.

“Change is hard, but change can be positive,” Conkin recalled of the 1980 formation of South from Sullivan West students and some Central High School students.

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