Vote on North-South merger could take months

Rick Wagner • Mar 27, 2013 at 10:08 AM

KINGSPORT — Sullivan County Board of Education member Randall Jones says he isn’t anywhere near a decision on whether to vote to merge North and South high schools, which Director of Schools Jubal Yennie proposes for August 2014.

But Jones, an Indian Springs resident, said he is certain of something else: No matter what the outcome of the North-South merger vote, the system needs to make sure city-zoned students know they are welcome to remain or transfer to a county school.

During a community input meeting at North High Monday night (Click Here to view a recording of Monday night's meeting), Jones — elected to the BOE in August 2012 — told a group of about 250 that the county system wants to keep 1,000 city-zoned students who have chosen to attend county schools under the managed choice policy. Under the policy, students countywide, including those in the cities, can attend a county school if physical space is available and they have their own transportation. That number includes about 70 of the 540 students at North.

“We need all city residents in the county (schools) to stay,” Jones said. “We want them to stay.” They make up about 10 percent of 10,860 students in the county system.

As for the broader picture, Jones and fellow BOE member Todd Broughton of Bloomingdale urged community members to come up with additional scenarios and ideas to share with the board.

Jones said he wants to take a closer look at an idea floated by Chance Minnick of Bloomingdale.

Jones said he wants a lot more information, input and data before he begins to make a decision.

He and school board member Robyn Ivester said it might be months before the BOE votes on whether to adopt Yennie’s recommendation to merge North and South.

Yennie’s goal in considering rezoning and school closing proposals includes meeting a projected $3 million budget shortfall and making the school system more equitable and efficient.

Minnick suggested it was fairer and more equitable to do in the other three high school zones, South, Central and East, sort of what has been done in the North zone.

Instead of moving all middle schoolers to high schools, as the North Middle “school within a school” at North High, his proposal is to move the sixth-graders back to elementary schools and the seventh- and eighth-graders up to the high schools in South, Central and East.

He said the only exception would be Mary Hughes School, a K-8 that would remain the same under that plan and not lose its middle school students.

With a savings of $3.435 million, that would beat the projected savings of the North-South merger of about $2.8 million.

In fact, for the South zone the proposal would be the same as scenario No. 1, which would close Colonial Heights Middle and the middle portion of Sullivan Gardens K-8, moving sixth-graders back to elementary and the seventh- and eighth-graders forward to South High.

Scenario No. 2 was to close Central Heights Elementary, move those students to Blountville Elementary, close Blountville Middle and move those students to Holston Middle.

Scenarios 1 and 2 would save less than $900,000 each. None of the options accounts for increased transportation costs.

Jones, retired from the central office of the Bristol, Tenn., school system and a self-described numbers and data watcher, and Broughton were newcomers in the August 2012 elections. They won along with returning members Betty Combs of Bluff City and Jack Bales of Sullivan Gardens. Bales was elected board vice chairman in September.

Some in the Monday night audience wore “Goon Squad” T-shirts that on the back read: “When in doubt, vote them out!”

In the August 2014 election, the seats of BOE Chairman Dan Wells of Lynn View, Piney Flats resident Ivester, who also represents part of the South zone, and Jerry Greene of Bristol will be up for re-election to four-year terms.

Speakers at a community input forum March 20 in Colonial Heights and Monday night at North talked about voting out school board members who supported the merger. The seven board members run for office inside seven districts. Ivester, Bales and Broughton attended the Colonial Heights meeting.

When one speaker blasted BOE members who were not at the Colonial Heights community input meeting, Jones took the podium to say he was not invited and only knew of the meeting through an email he saw that was addressed to another school board member.

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