Sullivan County BOE to meet tonight; school choice proposal not on tentative agenda

Rick Wagner • May 3, 2009 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Chances of Sullivan County school leaders making major changes in two “school choice” initiatives are beginning to grow dimmer for the 2009-10 year.

That means the specter of hundreds of recently annexed Kingsport students being forced from the county school system to the city system is diminishing for this fall. However, it also means both systems face the uncertainty of students in parts of the Sullivan North and South high school zones going back and forth between the two school systems.

The Sullivan County Board of Education’s tentative agenda for tonight’s meeting does not include the school choice proposal, which the board at its April meeting voted to table until the May meeting so absent BOE member Jack Bales could be present.

Instead, Director of Schools Jack Barnes said plans are for the BOE to address the issue during a daylong retreat May 13 at Northeast State Technical Community College.

The BOE will meet 6:30 p.m. in the first floor meeting room of the health and education building on the Blountville Bypass.

Barnes said any vote to affect the 2009-10 school year likely would have to be taken at a called meeting, since voting in June or July for a change to take effect in August wouldn’t give either system much time to plan.

The proposal is to rescind two board policies, which Barnes said would be in line with the school board’s wishes to staff schools based on in-zone students.

Otherwise, affected students can shift back and forth between the two systems, making it hard to track them for attendance and predict staffing needs.

One allows students in what was the 1979 Lynn View High School zone but were subsequently annexed by Kingsport to continue attending county schools. BOE member Jim Kiss of Bloomingdale expressed strong opposition to rescinding that policy, saying it would cut the student population at Sullivan North High.

The other, passed in April 2006, allows all students annexed from that point forward to continue attending a county school. It is countywide but has the most impact in the Rock Springs area, where the city is annexing and will open the new John Adams Elementary School this fall.

In both cases, the students do not have to go through the lottery process in which out-of-zone students are placed in county schools with available space.

The change would allow students in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades to continue attending a county high school — without county-provided transportation — and would allow all others to go through the lottery.

All told, county school officials have said between 400 and 500 students could be affected based on completed annexations and those proposed to take effect in the next few years. On the other hand, city officials have said the city system has about 150 out-of-zone students, although not all of those are from Sullivan County.

On another matter, the board is to consider a proposal to transfer ownership of the old Lynn View football field to Sullivan County.

Kingsport is considering the purchase of Lynn View from Tri-Cities Christian Schools, which owns the school building and all but the football field. The county has the right of first refusal on the Lynn View property.

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