North-South merger among rezoning options

Rick Wagner • Feb 28, 2013 at 11:59 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s North and South high schools could be consolidated into one next school year.

The school system could save up to $4 million a year by having three instead of four high schools, converting either the South Rebels’ home or North Golden Raiders’ home into a middle school, according to rezoning options reviewed at a public meeting Thursday night.

North High already hosts a school within a school, with North Middle students separated by different schedules but sharing the cafeteria.

The North-South consolidation proposal to form a “west zone” high school, which would save $3.5 million to $4 million with staff reductions, utility savings and reduction of a cafeteria, is one of the three proposals on the drawing board that could close a projected $3 million 2013-14 school budget gap.

Colonial Heights Middle School and the middle school portion of Sullivan Gardens K-8 would close under that plan and another plan also under review.

The Sullivan Department of Education floated three scenarios to about 300 parents and community members during a public meeting at Sullivan Central High School Thursday night, following a 5:30 p.m. Board of Education work session.

Another scenario — in the Central High zone — would close Central Heights Elementary and move its students to the already overcrowded Blountville Elementary. However, those students could also use the adjoining Blountville Middle School space since it would be closed as a middle school and those middle school students shifted to Holston Middle School.

It would save about $800,000 in staff reductions, utility savings and reduction of a cafeteria.

A third scenario, focused solely on the South zone, would close the middle school portion of Sullivan Gardens K-8 and close Colonial Heights Middle. Director of Schools Jubal Yennie said those two buildings need $20 million in maintenance and repairs.

The sixth-graders would be moved back to their respective elementary schools, while seventh- and eighth-graders would be moved to South High.

That would save up to $850,000 including staff reductions, utility savings and reduction of a cafeteria, but it would cost about $2.5 million to retrofit South with an additional gymnasium and offices in order to keep younger students separate from high-schoolers.

Yennie said that more plans likely would be publicized and more details about the three current plans would emerge before he makes his recommendation to the BOE on March 14. Then the BOE would decide what, if anything, to do and whether to do it by a self-imposed deadline of March 28.

Public comments on the plans are being taken at rezoning@sullivank12.net and also will be taken during Monday’s 6:30 p.m. BOE meeting at the central office in Blountville.

At issue is a projected $3 million shortfall for 2013-14, the likelihood the County Commission won’t raise the property tax rate for the second year in a row to help schools, and a decline in the county school system enrollment from a high of more than 22,000 in the 1970s to a projected 10,500 next school year. In contrast, the system has building space for more than 15,000 students.

During its work session, the BOE reached a consensus to present the North-South consolidation along with the South and Central zone plans. However, BOE member Todd Broughton of Bloomingdale wanted the consolidation scenario presentation delayed until a later meeting when new messages to parents countywide could say the North zone would be affected by a proposal. Messages that went out Wednesday indicated only the South and Central zones would be affected.

“It’s Gravely all over again,” Broughton said, referring to the mid-2000s decision by the BOE to close Gravely Elementary in Bloomingdale at a meeting where the proposal under consideration was to close Cedar Grove Elementary in Bloomingdale.

Scenario information said the South zone middle school closure plan would maintain South zone stability for the short term but not the long term.

It also said the Central zone changes would increase middle school offerings for students, while the consolidated high school plan would provide long-term stability for Kingsport-area county schools, more offerings for middle and high school students and staff pay raises. However, a concern was that possibly not enough time exists to implement the plan by the fall.

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