KINGSPORT — Vowing to fight a plan to merge Sullivan North and Sullivan South high schools, outspoken residents of the Colonial Heights, Sullivan Gardens and Bloomingdale communities came out to a parent- initiated meeting at Colonial Heights Middle School on Wednesday night.
About 60 parents and community members attended the two-and-a- half hour meeting.
“Mr. Gilmore, don’t let them close our school,” is what Colonial Heights Principal Randy Gilmore said he hears in the halls nowadays.
But a definitive answer may come later rather than sooner. Sullivan County Board of Education member Robyn Ivester told the group it was likely the March 28 school board meeting to vote on the proposal would be delayed because of community opposition and questions. Also, attendance of BOE Chairman Dan Wells is questionable because he had a heart attack Friday. Wells has been released from the hospital.
Ivester said a similar parent-initiated meeting has been scheduled for Monday at Ketron Elementary.
“We want your input. We want your questions,” Ivester said. “There are still other scenarios out there that are worth considering.”
South zone parent Angie Stanley, a local business owner, said she set up the meeting using mostly Facebook posts and texting.
Ivester denied a Facebook- spread scenario that indicated if she voted for the North-South merger, Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie would hire her in the county system’s central office. Ivester is a teacher in Johnson City.
“I did not run for the Sullivan County school board so I could get a position in the (Sullivan County) central office,” Ivester said.
Public officials attending the meeting included BOE members Ivester and Todd Broughton, BOE Vice Chairman Jack Bales and Sullivan County Commissioners Mo Brotherton, Matthew Johnson, Baxter Hood and Darlene Calton. All those except Calton sat at tables on the gym floor, with all but Hood and Calton making comments during the meeting.
“We are the community. We are strong,” said recently annexed Colonial Heights resident Eric Kerney, who is running for a seat on the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen and sought support from Colonial Heights voters in the city.
Bales said the issue was about Kingsport annexation “nickel and diming” the county system but that it also was about a decrease in the overall student population within all the school systems operating in Sullivan County. The county has dropped from more than 20,000 students when his children were in school to slightly more than 10,000 now.
“It’s not as if this just fell out of the air,” Bales said. “They’re (Kingsport officials) cannibalizing our communities. They’re cannibalizing our students,”
From three scenarios that emerged from central office staff, Yennie on March 14 proposed the merger of the high schools to one building and the middle schools to another — but not until August 2014.
The proposal was made to deal with a projected $3 million shortfall in the school budget, which Yennie said is to be addressed in other ways for 2013-14. It would save an estimated $2.8 million minus as-yet-uncalculated additional transportation costs, compared to less than $900,000 each for the other scenarios. To make up budget shortfalls, parents said they would support a wheel tax earmarked for education.
“I’m beginning to believe he (Yennie) was hired to close schools. That’s all he’s done,” Jo-rita Gragg of Sullivan Gardens said, adding that the effort has brought Bloomingdale, Colonial Heights and Sullivan Gardens together “and we’re not going to back down.”
Parents also said they don’t trust Yennie, citing a past statement that North High would be fine for the foreseeable future after North Middle became a school within a school.
Under the proposed merger, Colonial Heights Middle and the middle school portion of Sullivan Gardens K-8 would close and those students would attend middle school at either North or South, whichever one wasn’t the high school.
One alternative scenario, which Yennie did not recommend from a list of three that went public Feb. 28, was to close the two South zone middle schools and put the sixth-graders in elementary schools and the seventh- and eighth-graders at South High.
The other scenario he did not recommend was to merge Central High zone middle school students to Holston Middle, close Blountville Middle, and move Central Heights Elementary students to Blountville Elementary, closing Central Heights.