Sullivan BOE to decide if, how it will redraw school zones for 2013-14

Rick Wagner • May 3, 2013 at 11:24 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s school board will decide by the end of March if and how school attendance zones will be redrawn for the 2013-14 school year.

And the plans from which they will choose — or at least start the discussion — will be laid out at 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 28, in the cafeteria of Sullivan Central High School.

During a public meeting Thursday night at the central office, Assistant Director of Schools Gene Johnson presented the Board of Education and about 40 people in the audience with the process and timeline for the attendance rezoning.

Two parents and Sullivan East High graduation coach Steve Thompson spoke during a public comment session following Johnson’s presentation.

The first step was the board voting Feb. 4 for Director of Schools Jubal Yennie — out of town this week on school system business — to bring at least two rezoning proposals before the BOE.

The second step was the Thursday meeting, where Johnson announced that Yennie would present options at the Feb. 28 meeting at Sullivan Central High, which will occur after a 5:30 p.m. BOE work session in the Central library.

Under the timeline, the board will make a decision no later than 30 days after Feb. 28. Johnson said that might come at the March 4 BOE meeting or a later called meeting and that other public hearings may be held on the matter before a final decision is made.

The school system is seeking public input on written forms or by e-mailing in comments, suggestions and concerns related to the rezoning to rezoning@sullivank12.net.

Mark Ireson, father of an eighth-grade daughter at Central Heights Middle School, told the BOE he thought the timeline was too condensed and is concerned the parents of more than 10,000 county students are unaware attendance zones may be changing this fall.

“It does still bother me that this wasn’t broadcast widely,” Ireson said after the meeting. “It seems like that’s a very short process.”

Among considerations for rezoning are schools where enrollment exceeds 100 percent of functional capacity or is less than 50 percent of functional capacity.

BOE Chairman Dan Wells in answering Thompson’s questions said buildings new schools — such as a new middle schools talked about for the Piney Flats and Bluff City areas or the Colonial Heights and Sullivan Gardens areas — would not be part of this year’s decision. Johnson said even if it were, it would take two years to build a new school if the county commission approved it now.

However, Wells said closing schools might be discussed. Systemwide, there is room for 15,398 students and an enrollment of 10,598 for a 68.83 percent utilization rate.

The idea is to maximize efficiencies, which under Attendance Zone Policy 1.705 is by equalizing enrollment where overcrowding is, plan for student population growth of decline, modify school feeder patterns or promote efficient transportation use.

Sarah Hauk asked the BOE to remove out-of-zone students from Ketron — which is at more than 100 percent capacity — before changing that school’s zone, to keep in mind transportation issues and to keep parents informed in a timely manner.

She was one of the Orebank community parents upset with a BOE vote last summer that moved elementary students in Orebank from the Ketron elementary school to Central Heights, although the Orebank middle school students would have remained at Blountville Middle and Orebank high-schoolers at Central High.

Aside from capacity, other criteria are: projected enrollment; transportation efficiency — keeping in mind the maximum 90-minute transport time for students each morning and afternoon; geographic barriers such as rivers and roads; and school feeder patterns that help “to align elementary, middle and high school attendance zones.” However, the last three criteria carry the caveat of “to the extent practicable.”

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