Click Here to watch recording of the meeting.
Also proposed at a community input meeting at North High Monday night was an old idea: merge the county and area city school systems.
Amid impassioned pleas for the Sullivan County Board of Education not to look at a scenario to merge North and South in one building and put all the middle schools in those high school zones in the other building, BOE members, county commissioners, veteran North High Principal Richard Carroll, students, parents and the public addressed a crowd of about 250 in J. Richard Carroll Gymnasium.
The almost two-hour meeting was streamed live by the Kingsport Times-News and is available on video at www.timesnews.net.
“This community has sacrificed enough,” said Carroll, who received a standing ovation after speaking. He recounted the closing of 10 schools in the North zone.
They are Arcadia; Orebank; Bell Ridge, now a Christian school; West View and Lynn Garden, both now Kingsport schools; Lynn View Middle; Gravely; Cedar Grove; Kingsley and Brookside, which is now the joint city-county Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee known as IA.
Some speakers suggested cutting funding for or closing IA before considering a North-South merger, and many, as in past community meetings, decried Kingsport’s annexations into their communities.
Only two school buildings remain in the North zone, Ketron Elementary and North High, which also houses North Middle.
But under scenario No. 3, the one Director of Schools Jubal Yennie has recommended but eighth-grader Montana Hite said would decimate her educational opportunities, North and South would be combined into one school of about 1,500.
The board will not consider the North-South merger at a called meeting Thursday, as originally proposed, but will delay that decision — maybe for months, according to school board members Robyn Ivester and Randall Jones.
Yennie has the said the merger couldn’t take place until at least the fall of 2014.
“Bigger is not better,” Carroll said, adding that the ideal high school size is less than 900 students. North High is about 540 and South 960.
Chance Minnick of Bloomingdale presented commissioners and BOE members with a plan to leave the North zone alone but close all the other zones’ middle schools “to do the same thing we’ve done” more or less in the North zone.
That would close Bluff City and Holston Valley middles in the East zone, Blountville and Holston middles in the Central zone and Colonial Heights Middle and the middle school portion of Sullivan Gardens K-8 in the South zone, making for an estimated savings of $3.435 million. Minnick suggested making the changes over three to five years.
The North-South option would save an estimated $2.8 million, compared to a projected budget shortfall of about $3 million in an $86 million spending plan. None of the options, including South zone only changes and Central zone only changes, includes added transportation costs.
Commissioner Baxter Hood of Colonial Heights urged area elected and appointed officials, as well as Eastman Chemical Co., to work together to unite all school systems in Sullivan County “not as a long-term plan, but soon.”
He said a merger would help solve overcrowding and underutilization issues, as well as transportation and space problems.
“Let’s bring it to the front. It’s been on the backburner enough,” Hood said.
However, Commissioner Pat Shull of Kingsport said consolidating schools is “not what’s in front of us right now.” He said the issue now boils down to money, better city-county cooperation and a longer-term Kingsport annexation plan.
BOE member Jones said that since 2001, the system has seen a steady decline in students. The largest percentage drop has been in the North zone at 25.74 percent, followed by the Central zone at 17.14 percent, South at 14.5 percent and East at 7 percent. Of 10,866 pre-K-through-12 students, East serves 29 percent, Central a little more than 29 percent, South 26.6 percent and North 15.3 percent, Jones said.
BOE member Todd Broughton of Bloomingdale also attended the meeting. Officials said BOE Chairman Dan Wells of Lynn Garden was absent because he is recovering from a heart attack.
Aside from Hood and Shull, also attending the meeting and sitting in front of the crowd were County Commissioners Darlene Calton, Mo Brotherton, John Crawford, Bill Kilgore and Terry Harkleroad. In the audience were Commissioners Michael Surgenor, Ed Marsh and John Gardener, as well as Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen newcomer Eric Kerney and BMA Vice Mayor Tom Parham, who is seeking re-election.