Sullivan BOE challengers say better communication needed between board members, parents

Rick Wagner • Jul 11, 2012 at 11:15 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — When it comes to communication in the Sullivan County school system, some school board hopefuls say there is lots of room for improvement.

An example some hopefuls gave is the Sullivan County Board of Education’s June 28 vote to rezone more than 40 Orebank students from Ketron Elementary to Central Heights Elementary, as well as how welcome the public feels to speak at BOE meetings.

The Orebank rezoning is to be reviewed and possibly reconsidered during a called meeting at 1 p.m. today in the first floor meeting room of the Health and Education Building. The board also is to vote on a proposed 2012-13 budget to present to the County Commission.

At a Tuesday BOE forum for the nine candidates seeking District 1, 3, 5 and 7 seats on the school board in the Aug. 2 election, the candidates were asked about communication in the school system. The Central High PTSA hosted the forum.

District 1 incumbent Jack Bales of Sullivan Gardens said the public can attend and speak at public school board meetings by filling out a comment form before the meeting starts.

District 1 challenger Heather Price of Sullivan Gardens said one of the main reasons she is running is to open up a dialogue with parents at the school level and proposed having forums throughout the county.

In District 3, challenger Todd Broughton of Bloomingdale decried an “elitist attitude of the board” in the abrupt closing of Gravely Elementary in the mid-2000s and the late June vote to rezone more than 40 Orebank community students from Ketron to Central Heights.

Incumbent District 3 BOE member Jim Kiss of Bloomingdale cast the lone vote against the Orebank rezoning and said he hoped it would be reversed at today’s called meeting.

Kiss said open forums were a good idea, but the BOE functions in public with opportunities for the public to comment.

“We don’t hold any closed meetings. Concerned parents are welcome to bring questions,” Kiss said.

In the three-way District 5 race, challenger Randall Jones of Indian Springs said having parent and teacher advisory groups is essential, although in a system the size of Sullivan County — almost 11,000 students — the central office must do a good job of informing from the top down.

District 5 challenger Anissa Lyttle of Indian Springs said Central High does a great job of using electronic media to communicate with parents. However, she cited a lack of communication between the school board and parents. She said parents want to see board members in the schools and at their children’s school activities.

District 5 incumbent Ron Smith of the Piney Flats/Blountville area said that on items brought up in public comment, “If there’s not an agenda item, we do not vote at that meeting.”

Smith, chairman of the board, said the system used School Messenger to communicate with parents, and forums are a good idea.

And in District 7, incumbent Betty Combs said, “Our telephone numbers are listed on the Web site.”

The site is www.sullivank12.net/.

Combs said she answers calls from those in her district and countywide and attends PTA meetings and school programs.

District 7 challenger Michael Hughes from the Bluff City area said he has witnessed parents “treated rudely” at school board meetings.

“I think people know when they feel welcome,” Hughes said.

At the June BOE meeting, two parents from Weaver Elementary wanted to address a proposal, which ultimately failed, to rezone some students from there to Emmett Elementary.

Smith at the meeting said the two parents and another man who tried to speak were out of order because they didn’t file public comment forms, but the couple said they couldn’t get off work in time to get there before the 4:30 p.m. start of the meeting, which normally starts at 6:30 p.m.

The election for the nonpartisan BOE seats is Aug. 2. Early voting starts Friday and ends July 28, although it is not held every day.

For more information and the early voting schedule go to the Sullivan County Election Commission Web site at www.scelect.org/elections.html.

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