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Sullivan County looks at closing some schools

January 14th, 2009 12:00 am by Rick Wagner






BLOUNTVILLE — Closing Cedar Grove Elementary in Bloomingdale, Akard and Valley Pike elementary schools near Bristol, and creating a middle school within Sullivan North High School could help shave almost $1 million from the Sullivan County school budget.


In addition, the school system may shift students from the overcrowded Colonial Heights Middle School to underutilized Sullivan Middle School.


Those are among potential school closings and rezonings presented by Director of Schools Jack Barnes at a Wednesday Sullivan County Board of Education retreat held at Northeast State Technical Community College.


The group of scenarios combined could save county schools an estimated $972,342 and all but eliminate the use of modular units in the roughly 12,000-student county system. That became a goal of the school board after high winds leveled a modular unit at Kingsley Elementary in 2004.


However, BOE members Dan Wells of Lynn Garden and Jim Kiss of Bloomingdale questioned the scenario closing Cedar Grove because it would move the seventh grade to North High School, which already houses the eighth grade.


“If the board does not want this to happen, it won’t happen,” Barnes said.


The board will hold a work session at 3 p.m. Jan. 29 to discuss the scenarios further.


Kiss and Wells said they have grandchildren headed toward North, and intermingling seventh- and eighth-graders is bad policy. Kiss opposed moving the eighth grade to North.


“In my way of thinking, it won’t be any different than it is now,” Kiss said.


Barnes said the North scenario is probably better than the current situation.


Barnes noted a continuing decline in population there — as indicated by past trends and projections by the Knoxville-based Partnership for Education Facilities Assessment study — and ensuing higher operational costs could lead to closure of the school or its non-high-school use.


Shifting students to North is an attempt to shore up declining enrollment there, which PEFA projects will fall from the current 867 to 734 in 2017-18.


“Dollars become secondary. Kids come first,” Kiss said of the Cedar Grove closure/North realignment plan, which is estimated to save $455,638 — about half the total savings of all scenarios combined.


Barnes said all scenarios are short-term fixes that should be followed by renovation and building programs.


The Sullivan County Commission has gone on record in support of the idea of a $50 million bond issues for schools. The panel also commissioned the PEFA study.


Under the scenario in the North zone, Cedar Grove would close and pre-kindergarten to third-grade students from it would be rezoned to Brookside and Kingsley. Ketron Intermediate School would become a 4-6 facility, while North would become a 9-12 school with a separate wing of 7-8 with separate bus transportation, entrance, principal, guidance, office and school day schedule, although it would share a gym, cafeteria and library with the high school.


Barnes called the North proposal a “school within a school” with interaction with high schoolers “as little as possible,” although he said many details would have to be worked out.


Kiss replied: “As little as possible is still too much.”


Barnes said if the plan were adopted, eventually separate gym and cafeteria space might have to be built for the middle school use.


As for the South zone, shifting 136 students from 538-student Colonial Heights Middle to the 184-student Sullivan Middle would eliminate all six modular units at Colonial Heights. The dividing line would be Interstate 26. The savings would be $850.


Barnes said long-term solutions will be needed, especially after the “smart growth” plan annexation moratorium on Colonial Heights ends in 2010.


The other scenarios would:


• Close Akard Elementary near Bristol in the Central High zone and rezone its students to both Blountville Middle and Blountville Elementary, making the middle school 5-8 and the elementary pre-K-4. That would result in a savings of $281,775.


Officials said the change might require the use of one modular unit but not the three the Blountville schools have.


• Rezone Mary Hughes Middle School students to Bluff City Middle and Holston Middle, with U.S. Highway 11-E being the dividing line.


Savings would be $139,677, and the plan should eliminate the modular units at Mary Hughes, a K-8 school that has five in place and uses four, Barnes said. He said the move, designed to relieve overcrowding, is a temporary fix for a long-term situation. He said a new school in the Bluff City/Piney Flats area may be the eventual answer.


• Close Valley Pike Elementary and rezone students to Emmett Elementary, making Emmett a pre-K-4 school and moving the fifth-grade students to Holston Valley Middle School. The savings would be $157,402.


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