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School study: Sullivan official wants to form panel to look at county’s, cities’ resources

J. H. Osborne • Jun 19, 2013 at 10:24 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — A proposal to have Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey invite city officials from Bristol, Tenn., and Kingsport to form a joint study committee to look at “educational resources” was put on “first reading” — twice — on Monday by its primary sponsor, County Commissioner Baxter Hood.

The resolution seeks to create a “joint education committee” “to study and evaluate ways to maximize the utilization of county educational resources and provide quality education to Sullivan County students.”

When its turn came on the Sullivan County Commission’s monthly agenda on Monday, Hood put the measure on “first reading,” which means the sponsors aren’t calling for a vote but will let a resolution go through the normal two-month review process.

But Commissioner Pat Shull, a co-sponsor, asked permission to elaborate on the measure.

Shull repeated much of what he said earlier this month when speaking in support of the resolution to the commission’s Executive Committee, which went on to endorse the proposal.

The commission’s other two primary committees, however, deferred action — something Shull said happened because neither he nor Hood attended those committee meetings to explain the resolution.

That could happen when those committees meet next meet.

Shull has 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.

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

At the Executive Committee meeting, Shull said, “I am not putting forth an idea of countywide consolidation.”

But he went on to say that could be the recommendation of the joint study committee if it is created.

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 the 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 said the goal of the resolution is simply to ask Godsey to set into motion the creation of the study committee.

Later in the commission’s meeting on Monday, Hood asked to bring the issue back to the floor.

Hood said he was willing to take a vote if others wanted to do so. Hood also mentioned Godsey in some way.

Godsey said he had no part in the issue other than what was spelled out in Hood’s and Shull’s resolution — if it is approved by the full commission, it asks that he, as county mayor, invite the two cities to send representatives to a joint study committee.

Godsey said “several folks” already are looking at how to best use school facilities — and he can’t make the cities do anything or participate in anything.

But, Godsey said, he will send a letter to both Kingsport and Bristol if that’s what the commission ultimately asks him to do.

Godsey pointed out that to vote on the issue Monday would require a “waiver of the rules,” which means it would need a two-thirds majority vote (16 of 24 commissioners), rather than a simple majority (13).

Hood eventually said he would leave it on “first reading.”

Shull, a former Kingsport alderman, went before the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen during its regular meeting Tuesday night and told Model City leaders a formal request to participate in the joint education committee would be forthcoming from Godsey.

Shull said Godsey has four members of the Sullivan County Commission picked for the committee. Shull noted how Sullivan County has the capacity for 15,000 students, but only has 10,000 students in its system.

“We all have a stake in the favorable outcome of how to best manage our school resources over the next several years,” Shull said.

The BMA accepted a copy of Shull’s resolution and gave no indication Kingsport would participate in the committee.

Staff Writer Matthew Lane contributed to this report.

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