BLOUNTVILLE — The “scenario 3” merger of two Kingsport area Sullivan County high schools appears to be off the table, at least for now.
Instead of the Sullivan County school board considering the merge this month, the board may approve a plan to hire a planning consultant to make recommendations on that and other facilities matters.
During a Sullivan County Board of Education strategic planning work session Saturday morning, Director of Schools Jubal Yennie said he will recommend the BOE at its Monday meeting start the wheels in motion to hire a planning consultant to assemble and interpret data and, ultimately, make recommendations for board consideration.
“Everybody has a solution. I’ve been listening to them for three years,” Yennie said of his time with the system.
“We’re not going to do anything with North and South,” Yennie said, “until we do a deliberate and thorough process.”
The board will meet 6:30 p.m. in the first floor meeting room of the health and education building off the Blountville Bypass.
Plan has positive response
Yennie and frequent Yennie critic and BOE member Todd Broughton both called the proposed hiring “money well spent.”
In a nutshell, Yennie said his proposal means the option to merge Sullivan North and South high schools into one building, turning the other building into a middle school serving both high school zones would be put on hold.
Data from 2012-13 indicates all four county high schools are close to a target student-teacher ratio of 17.5 and schools countywide are running efficiently on a per-pupil basis. That doesn’t included position cuts made for the 2013-14 school year that further cut overhead.
Yennie said the system is doing well in academic achievement and has plans to improve communications but must address the issue of having facilities space for about 15,000 students but only 10,500 students.
The BOE earlier this year put a six-month hold on consideration of the merger plan, called scenario 3 and first introduced to the board from Yennie in late February.
“This is what six months bought us,” Yenne said.
That proposal, which drew opposition from the South and North zone communities, would lead to the closure of Colonial Heights Middle School and the middle school portion of Sullivan Gardens K-8.
The self-imposed, six-month moratorium is about to expire.
Whatever the proposed consultant’s conclusion and recommendations, BOE member Robyn Ivester urged the board seriously consider them.
“We need to consider it. It may not be popular,” Ivester said.
Yennie said he has no one or no business in mind for the consultant’s position, nor an exact funding among. He said the board would interview and hire the consultant after candidates respond to a request for proposals or RFP.
He said funding likely would be taken from renovation funds unless another funding source can be found.
Yennie proposal says:
A draft proposal handed out by Yennie calls for an enrollment presentation and engagement of a planning consultant this month, with the consultant presenting the planning process to the board in November and a curricular program presentation.
December would include a facilities condition presentation and consultant “mid-process” report, to be followed by a report on annexation and managed choice — in which the county allows annexed students to continue as if they were in zone in a county school — and a summary of the data gathering process.
The whole process may take six- to 18-months, but Yennie said it will set the tone for a 10-year Sullivan County school facilities plan.
School board members and South zone parent Angie Stanley said they supported the proposal.
“I think they need to get someone who is not politically joined in the community,” Stanley said of an “outside” consultant with no pre-conceived notions.
“This gives us a solid foundation to start on for the future,” BOE member Randall Jones said. “We don’t know what it is yet, but this will give it to us.”
Yennie said a good “first step” in the process will be sharing data with the County Commission’s Education Committee subcommittee headed by Commissioner Pat Shull. That group had its first meeting last month but plans to have monthly meeting.
Although invited, no elected Kingsport or Bristol, Tenn., school or city officials attended the meeting, although county school and government officials did, along with school system representatives and City Manager John Campbell.
The Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen and Kingsport BOE have a joint work session set for 5 p.m. Tuesday in the school system central office downtown.
“Suspend solutions. Determine what the problems are first,” Yennie told the board of the process. “We have a lot of data out there, but we need to do a better job of putting it together.”
What about PEFA study?
The County Commission funded a more than $100,000 study of city and county school facilities in the late part of last decade, but Yennie said the 2008 Partnership for Education Facilities Asessment study from the Knoxville Building Authority is dated, lacked enrollment projections for specific schools and did not consider accommodations for programs such as STEM or science, technology, engineering and math in place at Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee, a joint project of the county and Kingpsort opened with the help of $1.5 million in federal start-up money from Race to the Top, and Ketron Elementary, a STEM-themed school funded by $17 million in low-interest federal bonds.
Yennie said he is willing to work with Kingsport officials, who have said the two governments should work together because the city has more students than needed space the county has more space than students.
Bales: Redo annex law
BOE Vice Chairman Jack Bales said he would like to add to the process an effort to have state annexation and other laws changed to help the county school system, a search for “how we change the rules” now favoring cities. Each student in public Tennessee schools is followed by about $9,000 a year in state funding.
He said school system leaders need to let lawmakers know what the “smart-growth” law and its urban growth boundaries, where cities can annex without serious threat of legal challenge, have done in Sullivan County.
After a 10-year moratorium on annexation by Kingpsort into Colonial Heights expired in 2010, the city has annexed there. The General Assembly last session passed a 13-month moratorium that will expire around April of 2014, but it applies only to annexation of residential and agricultural and residential properties, not commercial ones, and also does not apply to annexation by request.
“Kingsport does not need to take any more students until we work through this,” Bales said.
The city has just more than 7,000 students, the county about 10,500. An estimated 1,000 annexed students remain in the county system, Yennie has said, and Broughton said other Sullivan County students have gone to neighboring Scott County, Va.