Sullivan BOE to discuss sending city students back to Kingsport schools

Rick Wagner • May 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Board of Education will consider next month whether to continue allowing annexed students to attend county schools without going through the lottery for out-of-zone students.

Hanging in the balance could be whether about 500 students a year in the Sullivan North and South high school zones attend those schools or Kingsport’s Dobyns-Bennett High School, although the proposal the board will consider is to ease into the transition over time.

Director of Schools Jack Barnes announced he would put the matter on the June 1 BOE meeting after the board addressed the issue during a daylong retreat held at Northeast State Technical Community College Wednesday.

At issues are two things: a 1979 policy that allows students in the old Lynn View High School zone to attend Sullivan North High School zone schools, and an April 2006 board vote that students in areas annexed since that time can attend the county school to which they previously were zoned.

“You all have asked us to staff for in-zone students only,” Barnes told the board, adding that displaced students still could apply for placement through the annual lottery process.

BOE member Dan Wells of Lynn Garden cited a potential projected fall from 2,041 to 1,643 in the North zone’s student population.

But Barnes and board member Jack Bales of Sullivan Gardens said the BOE needs to address the issue as it looks at requesting the County Commission fund a countywide school building, renovation and addition plan — including closing up to 12 schools — at a cost of more than $201 million and eventual annual operational savings of $2.1 million a year.

Bales said the county system should be serving the students it is “legally required to serve,” and Kingsport should do the same.

For instance, in the North zone 150 “1979 Rule” Kingsport students attend county schools, while the bulk of 87 other out-of-zone students come from elsewhere in Kingsport. BOE members said about 40 county students attend the city-operated Kennedy Elementary in Lynn Garden tuition free.

BOE member Larry Harris of Colonial Heights said the 1979 Rule and April 2006 issue — which for now mostly affects the Rock Springs area subject to Kingsport annexations and annexation proposals — should be considered as one issue, not two.

Barnes said he would draft a proposal that would make a transition that might, for instance, allow students in elementary, middle or high school to finish out that level in the county system.

An earlier proposal — tabled by the board in April for later discussion at the May meeting but then delayed until retreat discussion — would have exempted those in the 10th grade or higher but not provided them any transportation.

Also at the June 1 BOE meeting, the board is to consider closing Gunnings School, which houses mostly special education and alternative high school classes, and moving programs elsewhere to save more than $40,000 a year plus one-time upcoming costs of $56,000.

BOE members will also discuss extending the school day from 7 to 7.5 hours to pick up eight weather days and five days for teacher professional development.

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