Sullivan BOE won't vote on school merger for at least six months

Rick Wagner • May 3, 2013 at 11:18 AM

A Sullivan County school board vote on a plan to merge North and South high schools and close both middle schools in the South zone is at least six months away, school system officials announced Monday night.

But two Colonial Heights women let the board know they opposed any plan that would result in the closure of Colonial Heights Middle, including a recent proposal by North zone resident Chance Minnick that would mimic changes made in the North zone across the county.

“I can assure you our group in Colonial Heights is not interested in that,” South zone mother Tina Bowery told the Board of Education during public comment at its regular April meeting. “We believe there is no reason to close any school.”

Minnick’s proposal — dubbed “scenario 4” — would leave the North zone as is with one elementary and a middle and high school under one roof at North, following a series of school closures there. But it would close middle schools in the South and East High zones. It has options for the Central High zones that would close middle and/or elementary schools.

Yennie recommended scenario 3, the North-South merger, from three ideas he first presented at a Feb. 28 public meeting.

Scenario 1 is to close middle schools in the South zone and put sixth-graders in elementary and seventh- and eighth-graders in South, while scenario 2 is to close Central Heights Elementary and Blountville Middle in the Central High zone, moving the elementary students to Blountville Elementary and the middle school students to Holston Middle.

“The Sullivan County Department of Education has postponed any vote on possible school rezoning plans for at least six months,” said Board of Education Vice Chairman Jack Bales, chairing the meeting in the absence of Chairman Dan Wells, who is recovering from a heart attack. “We will provide a public notice of 45 days before a Board of Education meeting in which a rezoning vote would take place. We will post announcements regarding rezoning on the Department of Education website,” he said, reading from a statement, “as well as provide announcements to local media. Additional communication will be delivered by an automated telephone call and sent home to parents of Sullivan County students.”

After the meeting, Director of Schools Yubal Yennie said he still wants to have a task force of stakeholders — possibly including community members, parents, teachers and students — but that more information is needed before that group is formed and before the BOE votes on the rezoning and closing issue.

Specifically, he cited the April 15 joint meeting of the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen and Regional Planning Commission on annexation, a meeting to which the city and county BOEs are invited.

In addition, Yennie said the task force would consider rezonings in light of what the system does to balance its 2013-14 budget, which by his estimate is about $3 million short on revenues.

He recently said that may require cuts including laying off instructional aides or making them part-time and offering early retirement incentives for teachers.

Bowery said closing CHMC would bring devastation to the community, businesses, residents and property values.

“We are an affluent community that provides many tax revenues,” Bowery said, predicting a drop in property tax values if CHMC were closed.

She also said about 95 percent of recently annexed students in the community have remained in the county school system, something she said 300 parents have indicated to her they would no longer do in the event that CHMS closes.

Angie Stanley, a South zone mother and business owner, said real estate agents have told her the CHMS closure would hurt real estate values, home sales and the overall real estate business in Colonial Heights.

“I don’t think any school needs to be shut down,” Stanley said. The situation in the North zone “doesn’t mean that everybody else’s schools need to be shut down too.”

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