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Sullivan BOE wants some answers before April 7 action on Innovation Academy budget

March 28th, 2014 8:42 am by Rick Wagner

Sullivan BOE wants some answers before April 7 action on Innovation Academy budget

BLOUNTVILLE — Next school year's potential enrollment at Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee grew to 224 as of Thursday, up from 220 Wednesday.

But Sullivan County school board members at a Thursday night work session said they want answers to some questions before they vote April 7 to proceed with a proposed IA STEM platform school budget of $1.47 million for its first year without support from Kingsport City Schools.

Specifically, BOE member Randall Jones said he wants a summary of standardized test results from IA and more budget information.

Director of Schools Jubal Yennie at the three-hour work session outlined a 2014-15 budget of $1,471,959 for IA, which would have its own school number from Tennessee and continue to operate in the former Brookside Elementary School building in Bloomingdale but expand to include sixth through ninth grades.

"Parents are waiting for us to say we're going to do this, and they'll step in," Yennie said, urging the board to take action on IA at its April 7 meeting. He also suggested a contingency requiring a certain number of enrollees or some teaching positions might not be filled.

IA today has 12 teachers, four at each level in grades 6-8, six funded by Kingsport, which is withdrawing from the program, and six by the county. It has slots for 240 students but has gone down to 189, which Principal Sandy Watkins told the board was typical for a second year of a start-up STEM school.

Yennie's proposal is to have four sixth-grade teachers, three seventh-grade, two eighth-grade and two ninth-grade, although the 8-9 and 6-7 teachers would each serve at least two grade levels.

In addition, he is proposing 3.5 related arts teachers, which he said is fewer than any other county middle school, even accounting for IA's small size. A lottery still may be held, depending on final numbers of students intending to attend.

Sullivan County would have to hire five new teachers plus staff the related arts positions, although Yennie said some Kingsport teachers appear ready to go to work for the county system.

As for revenues, Finance Director Leslie Bonner said the program will lose all Kingsport local funding, projected to be $194,726 this school year, and have its Race to the Top Funding go down by more than $378,000, a function of delaying the last $250,000 in RTTT funds intended to be spent the first two years to the third year.

The existing county students presumably would be in the system with or without IA, but Bonner said the out-of-district students — including those from Kingsport, Bristol, Tenn., Johnson City and Hawkins County and one about to move to the area from California — will mean an additional $3,450 share of locally shared revenue the first school year and that money plus another $3,600 per student in BEP money from Tennessee the second and subsequent school years.

The program received a $1 million grant administered through the Battelle Foundation to start the STEM platform program, and East Tennessee State University got $500,000 from the same source to become the innovation hub for IA and the 15 school systems in the Northeast Tennessee region.

Bonner after the work session said she has not calculated how much more it will cost the county this year than last to fund IA, although the board at length discussed $454,291 more coming from the general purpose school fund for IA than the current year estimates. She said IA revenues are still a little murky.

BOE members Robyn Ivester and Randall Jones questioned how much the county can spend on IA when enrollment projections indicate positions will need to be eliminated and/or personnel shifted at elementary, middle and high schools.
"If we fund for IA, where are we going to have to cut?" Ivester said.
"You've got to look at the whole system," Jones said. "We're deciding what type of kitchen we want and the house isn't built yet."
Jones said he wanted more budget detail and standardized test data. Yennie said he believes the test data will show students the first two years lost no ground nor gained it, but he said STEM schools generally start out that way.

IA Tuesday formally became the first program in the nation to win an Apple Distinguished Program award for two school years, 2013-14 and 2014-15. It is one of two Apple Distinguished Programs in Tennessee and among about 220 nationwide.
"I can't put that on Leslie's spreadsheet," Yennie said, while BOE Chairman Dan Wells said he hopes more grants are forthcoming.

"I can't believe we've got the accolades we've got and we can't get that extra emphasis from other sources," Wells said.

Member Todd Broughton said he hopes local industry will provide funding, although Bonner said partners Eastman Chemical Co., Domtar and Wellmont Health System have provided STEM professionals and donated equipment.

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