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Questions remain on city/county school study

March 7th, 2014 9:31 pm by Rick Wagner

Questions remain on city/county school study

KINGSPORT — City school leaders have unanimously approved moving forward with a joint comprehensive facilities study with Sullivan County.

However, questions about how the cost will be split and by whom remain to be answered.

And the five-member board also has given the nod to a differentiated teacher pay plan that includes a teacher performance factor.

At Thursday night’s regular monthly Board of Education meeting, the board approved by a 5-0 vote joining the county system in seeking a conditions of buildings, enrollment/demographics and program needs facility study contract with Dublin, Ohio-based DeJong-Richter (www.dejongrichter.com/).

The county board passed a similar proposal Monday, 7-0

Superintendent Lyle Ailshie said the vote signified three things: the city board wants to partner with the county board in seeking the joint study; the board authorizes negotiations to begin with DeJong-Richter; and the board authorizes him and BOE President Carrie Upshaw to join with county Director of Schools Jubal Yennie and county BOE Chairman Dan Wells to participate in negotiations to determine the scope of the study and cost.

Asked about that cost by city BOE member Andy King, Ailshie said no one really knows but that county school system officials had mentioned $300,000 as a ball park number last year.

“Everybody’s hoping it will come in less than that,” Ailshie said. “The city’s very supportive of the process and wants to see it go forward.”

Regardless of the amount, another bridge to cross is how the cost will be shared. Ailshie said it could be 50-50 between the two systems, split four ways among the two systems, the County Commission and city Board of Mayor and Aldermen, or based on a percentage of schools in the urban growth boundary, where the city is designated to annex with little chance of successful legal challenges.

Bristol, Tennessee’s school system did a similar study in 2006 and is implementing recommendations from it.

The county system this school year has about 10,500 students, the city almost 7,500, but among those are an estimated 800 city students who choose to remain in the county schools after annexation or went to a county school, both under the county’s “managed choice” program.

Another question is the local partner, which Ailshie said would be mostly in charge of looking at local school building conditions.

During a joint work session between the city and county boards last month, the consensus was that Johnson City-based Beeson, Lusk & Street Architects be paired with DeJong, and Ailshie said DeJong officials are willing to do that.

However, city BOE member Randall Montgomery said that if it becomes apparent the two can’t work well together, the pairing shouldn’t be forced. County BOE member Todd Broughton has questioned having a firm too familiar with local school buildings be charged with determining their condition.

The city system has said it does not want to consider recommendations for master plans that would involve consolidating schools, or city students being assigned to county schools, or jointly operated schools.

However, Ailshie said the city systems would not give DeJong marching orders on specific results otherwise.

Montgomery also asked what if the study resulted in conflicting recommendations to each system. Ailshie said he couldn’t imagine that happening. The whole idea behind the joint study is that the county has excess building capacity and the city is nearing capacity in some buildings. Both systems also have aging buildings.

Ailshie said he couldn’t give a timeline on getting a proposed contract but said it may take 30 to 60 days to get the four people together with DeJong officials to work out a proposal to bring back to the two school boards.

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