Sullivan BOE swears in members, hears complaints about members' pay, problems at Ketron

Rick Wagner • Sep 5, 2012 at 3:58 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County's Board of Education had a four-way swearing in — and almost some swearing at — Tuesday night.

The seven-member school board saw two new and two returning members sworn in for four-year terms. The board then elected Dan Wells chairman and Jack Bales vice chairman.

However, the BOE also heard complaints about glitches in the opening of Ketron Elementary School, complaints about federally mandated school lunch changes at Sullivan East High School, and a call for the BOE to reverse a decision to increase member pay from $300 a month to $592.73 a month.

With former board Vice Chairwoman Betty Combs of Bluff City acting as chairwoman, the board by acclamation in a voice vote chose Wells of Lynn Garden as chairman on a motion by Jerry Greene of Bristol, seconded by Robyn Ivester of Piney Flats.

"It is with pleasure that I give you this hammer that I've had for about 15 minutes," Combs said, to which Greene interjected "seven minutes."

Then, with Wells presiding as chairman, new board member Todd Broughton of Blooomingdale nominated new board member Randall Jones of Indian Springs as vice chairman, seconded by Bales, but Combs nominated Bales as chairman, a motion seconded by Greene.

In the ensuing vote, Broughton voted for Jones while Ivestor, Wells, Greene and Combs voted for Bales. Jones and Bales did not vote.

In the Aug. 2 election, Jones defeated incumbent and Chairman Ron Smith of the Piney Flats/Blountville area and challenger Anissa Lytle of Indian Springs, while Broughton defeated Jim Kiss of Bloomingdale, and Bales of Sullivan Gardens beat Heather Price of Sullivan Gardens.

•The first public comment was from Michael Hughes of Bluff City, who unsuccessfully challenged Combs.

"I came here tonight to ask the board to reconsider and give this month back," Hughes said of the increase in pay, retroactive to July 1, from $350 a month for all except $400 for the chairman to $592.73 for all except $692.73 for the chairman.

"Give us our money back," Hughes said. He said the raise -- the subject of a story in the Kingsport Times-News Monday and not publicized before the election -- "belongs to the children" and suggested the BOE go to the $100 and $150 the Kingsport BOE members and chairman make or nothing.

He said it was suspicious to him that the April vote to tie the BOE pay to the County Commission pay, which is tied to the county mayor's pay and automatic Tennessee-mandated increases the mayor gets, was "by accident" and without discussion and disclosure.

"It's gone from $40 to $592 in eight years," Hughes said, adding that Director of Schools Jubal Yennie's 5 percent raise to $126,000 July 1, 2011, didn't look so bad compared to the BOE raises, even with teachers and other school employees getting 2.5 percent that year.

Hughes said he hopes there are no more uncontested BOE and County Commission races and that most folks like the idea of accountability "until it affects them." The seats of Greene, Ivester and Wells will be up for election in two years.

•Ketron parent Paul Robinson complained about continuing student pickup problems at Ketron, where school officials "tried to put her (his daughter) in two cars in front of us" and two days later "tried to send us home with a different kid."

The school was expanded and renovated with more than $15 million in federal low-interest bonds and served about 750 students grades pre-K-through-5 -- the entire Sullivan North High School zone.

"Nobody knows how to pick them up," Robinson said. "Something needs to be done before a kid gets lost or a kid gets hurt."

The board set a 6 p.m. Sept. 20 work session to work on processes, procedures and performance matters, as well as get a report on enrollment. At the request of Broughton, who said the public has asked him repeatedly about Ketron, Wells said the board also likely would review how much money was spent at Ketron and how it was spent.

•Public comments from Brenda Leonard centered on problems with lunches at all area schools, but especially East High where she said about 95 percent of students pack lunches or just don't eat much during the day.

"This year is horrible," Leonard said of choice and preparation of food as well as the amount, mostly mandated by the federal government.

"It's not fit to eat," she said, saying she's contacted U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, about the issue but got no answers. She said healthy fare does no good if it is not served or ends up in the garbage.

She said a salad was six to eight pieces of lettuce, a spoon of cheese and egg or something else, not enough to sustain students, especially ones who practice sports or other activities until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. some days.

She also said the tuna, broccoli and asparagus are not hits with students either.

After the meeting, Ivester said her own children in the East zone were taking their lunch much of the time, especially her daughter at East, and that she understands the problem but doesn't know a ready solution.

•The board also approved a contract with the Jacobs Creek Job Corps in which residents there aged 16-18 could participate in the East High Diploma on Time program, attending classes at the corps property but being eligible to play athletics and possibly other extracurricular activities at East. Successful completion would give them a Sullivan County diploma, Yennie said.

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