BLOUNTVILLE — When Kingsport-based Eastman Chemical Co. bought Solutia Inc. in 2012 and moved employees from St. Louis to the Tri-Cities, Sullivan County school board Vice Chairman Jack Bales said many chose to live in Washington County, not Sullivan County.
That is not lost on a group of elected and appointed officials looking at issues facing K-12 education in Sullivan County, nor did it sit well with members of the public who attended an inaugural meeting of the group Oct. 26 at Northeast State Community College.
The group, an outgrowth of the County Commission’s Education Committee, decided to continue meeting and focus first on questions and data collections before trying to make recommendations.
Some folks at the meeting indicated annexation, annexation squabbles and a lack of marketing area schools, combined with the building of new schools in Johnson City and Washington County and a concerted effort to promote those systems, were at least partly to blame.
Sullivan South zone parent Angie Stanley said Johnson City and Washington County have new schools and markets them well. Washington County school officials are looking at building a new elementary school in Boones Creek.
“Nobody markets Sullivan County,” Stanley said. Kingsport school system spokesman Andy True said that city officials spent hours with Solutia employees working to convince them to locate in Kingsport.
But annexation is an issue that has hurt the Kingsport and county systems, some officials said. County Commissioner Mo Brotherton said Kingsport has annexed too quickly into Colonial Heights and the Sullivan South High School zone, making it impossible for the city and county school systems to handle the situation, although Board of Mayor and Aldermen members Monday indicated a shortage of upscale housing was the issue, not local school systems.
“It (annexation by referendum) may be the law, but is it the right thing to continue to do?” Bales said. “If it’s not good for Sullivan County, how can it be good for the region we live in?”
Kingsport Assistant City Manager Jeff Fleming Tuesday said 27 people from Missouri got water taps in the city's water service area, which includes non-city areas of Sullivan County, since 2010. He said that does not mean all those were from Solutia or that others from Solutia lived in apartments and didn't have water service in their names.
Eastman spokesman Betty Payne Tuesday said she could not say how many Solutia employees came to work at Eastman, headquartered, in Kingsport, but that all were not "executives" as Bales said he had understood. At the Oct. 26 meeting he gave a number of 110, but Payne said she could not readily say if that was correct or not.
However, she said it was untrue, as Bales said he believed at the meeting, that all the Solutia employees moved to Washington County or Johnson City and that none lived in Kingsport. One former Solutia employee contacted a reporter Monday and said he moved to Kingsport, and Payne said she personally knew one. Also, Alderwoman Colette George, a real estate agent, said at Monday's Board of Mayor and Aldermen work session she sold house in Kingsport to more than one former Solutia employee.Read more in Sunday’s print edition of the Times-News or in the expanded electronic edition. A correction to the original online and print stories from Sunday is available in Wednesday's print and expanded electronic edition at the bottom, left-hand corner of page 2A.