Sullivan commissioner favors special school districts

J. H. Osborne • Jun 12, 2013 at 10:59 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County Commissioner Pat Shull said Wednesday that he would like to see a plan to morph the current three school systems operating in the county — Sullivan County, Kingsport and Bristol — into three special school districts.

Shull is a co-sponsor of a resolution seeking creation of a special committee, to be made up of representatives of the three school boards and the three local governing bodies, to “study and evaluate ways to maximize the utilization of county educational resources and provide quality education to Sullivan County students.”

“We’ve got to stop kicking the can down the road,” Shull said.

Shull said he is not advocating any particular solution and would not want to pre-ordain what the study committee should or should not end up recommending.

And ordinarily, Shull said, the topic of how to best provide education would be broached by school boards, not county commissioners.

But Shull said something must be done to get the ball rolling on how to be more efficient with schools.

“I am not putting forth an idea of countywide consolidation,” Shull said, going on to say that could, however, be the recommendation of the committee.

Shull said he would probably like to see three special school districts: one encompassing today’s Kingsport City Schools system, with the addition of Sullivan North and Sullivan South and the feeder schools for North and South; another encompassing today’s Bristol, Tenn., City Schools system, with the addition of Sullivan East and its feeder schools; and a third that would be Sullivan Central High School and its feeder schools.

Shull said state law offers local school systems great leeway in ability to enter into agreements with one another.

The state did cease granting authority for new special school districts a few years ago, Shull said, but State Rep. Tony Shipley has told him a private act could be passed to allow the scenario described above to happen here in Sullivan County.

Shull said he wasn’t speaking for Shipley, but that he is confident Shipley would carry such a request to Nashville if local officials decide to pursue that option.

“It is my opinion he would advance that in the (Tennessee General) Assembly,” Shull said. “He has provided us with a lot of information.”

Shull repeated that he is not promoting a specific recommendation, and that the goal of the resolution is simply to ask County Mayor Steve Godsey to set into motion the creation of the study committee.

“Every one of my constituents is a city of Kingsport resident,” Shull said, adding that they have a dog in the fight because they pay county property taxes.

Shull said school boards who oversee special school districts like the ones outlined above have taxing authority. In other words, the county commission, Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen, and Bristol City Council would no longer set the tax rate that supports the school systems — that power and responsibility would shift to the boards of education.

Shull said Tennessee is one of only 11 states in the nation that uses the system in which the local governing body — not the local BOE — sets the tax rate for education spending.

Shull was speaking to the County Commission’s Executive Committee, which voted to endorse creation of a study committee.

Executive Committee Chairman Cathy Armstrong told Shull she applauds his effort to try and spur progress toward the county and cities working together on the issue, even though it’s a political nightmare in which the players don’t want to cede perceived power.

The issue could come for a vote by the full Sullivan County Commission next week.

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