Sullivan BOE confirms plans to close Akard, Kingsley, Cedar Grove schools

Rick Wagner • Oct 28, 2009 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Board of Education went on record Wednesday that it plans to close Kingsley, Cedar Grove and Akard elementary schools and will consider closing Brookside Elementary.

BOE Chairman Ron Smith said the vote — 6-0 with member Jerry Greene absent — was in response to questions and concerns from county commissioners about the funding source for repaying more than $15.4 million in low-interest Qualified School Construction Bonds to fund a renovation and expansion of Ketron Intermediate School in the Bloomingdale community.

“They’re looking to us for some assurance that’s going to happen,” Smith, of the Blountville/Piney Flats area, said of school closures that could help fund estimated bond repayments to start at about $1 million over 15 years.

The first payment on the economic stimulus bonds is due in August 2011. The payments on the “sinking fund” bonds will go down each year as interest drawn on unspent money and from annual payments helps offsets future payments. And unlike other bonds, the proceeds don’t have to be shared with the Kingsport and Bristol, Tenn., school systems.

The County Commission’s Budget Committee will meet at 7 p.m. tonight to consider a proposal for final approval of the bonds, required to get the proceeds expected late next month, and a called commission meeting on the issue is set for Wednesday, Nov. 4.

“I think we need to go on record saying that’s what we intend to do,” Smith said, “to say we’re going to be closing some schools.”

The closure of Cedar Grove and Kingsley and the potential closure of Brookside — all in Bloomingdale and the Sullivan North High School zone — would occur after the Ketron project is done.

“I don’t think we close schools until we have a place for them (displaced students) to go,” said board member Dan Wells of Lynn Garden, whose district includes part of the North zone. Jim Kiss of Bloomingdale, the other member representing the North zone, said it was obvious Kingsley and Cedar Grove would close after the remodeling and expansion of Ketron.

However, the Akard closure could occur by the start of the 2010-11 school year in August 2010. Under tentative plans the BOE has discussed, Akard students would be moved westward to Blountville Elementary School.

Smith said the BOE would schedule at least one public comment session for the Akard community, just west of Bristol, Tenn.

After the meeting, Director of Schools Jack Barnes said of about 154 students at Akard this year, 18 or so are in a special education program put there to help the building not be so underutilized. Those students might be placed in Blountville or sent elsewhere, but the others likely would come to Blountville, Barnes said.

Brookside could stay open to house K-2, while Ketron could be expanded from its current 5-7 to handle 3-7, or Ketron could become a pre-K-7 school. North serves 8-12.

Closing Cedar Grove and Kingsley would save about $740,000 a year, according to earlier school system estimates, while adding Akard to the closures would bring the projected savings to about $1 million. Closing Brookside could save an estimated $281,000.

On another matter, the BOE reached a consensus for Smith to approach Randy Bennett of the Tennessee School Boards Association about doing a search for a new director. Smith is to report back to the board on the matter in December.

The cost for the last search the TSBA did was about $5,000 and included talking with board members about their vision for a new superintendent, advertising the position, accepting and evaluating resumes, and narrowing down applicants to a list of four finalists, which the board publicly interviewed.

By law, the hiring must be done at least 45 days before the August election.

The BOE earlier this year voted 3-4 on a motion to renew Barnes’ contract. Smith, Betty Combs of the Bluff City area and Greene of Bristol voted yes, while Jack Bales of Sullivan Gardens, Larry Harris of Colonial Heights, Kiss and Wells voted no.

Combs objected to considering the matter until the regular December meeting, when Greene could be present, but a motion to delay failed in a 3-3 tie, with Wells, Combs and Smith voting yes and Bales, Kiss and Harris voting no. Combs pointed out the board delayed a decision recently because Bales was absent.

“This is extremely important. He (Greene) needs to be here,” Smith said.

Bales said, “I think we need to get the search under way. I think we need to go ahead and move. We’ve been waiting too long already.”

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