BOE votes to close Weaver Elementary, hears complaints about new schools

Rick Wagner • Apr 4, 2017 at 12:08 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Weaver Elementary School in eastern Sullivan County will close at the end of this school year, the Sullivan County school board decided Monday night.

However, public comments focused mostly on criticism of plans and funding issues for a new high school near Blountville and new middle school near Sullivan East High School.

In a vote of 6-0 with one absent, the Board of Education accepted Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski’s recommendation to close Weaver in May and send the students to two schools in Bluff City.

The school was built in 1921 and has had additions and renovations. In the middle part of the school, the upper sections of walls are spreading away from the building, according to an engineering report from Kingsport-based Spoden and Wilson, specifically structural engineer Steve Wilson.

In his report, Wilson said, “We would recommend strong consideration be given to re-evaluating occupancy of the facility (at least this [middle] portion of the facility) for any time period past this school year which should end May to June 2017 and that the maximum foreseeable timeframe for continued occupancy, without full demolition and replacement of the exterior walls and roof of that portion of the facility, should only be considered as one to two additional years of occupancy.”

Weaver parents fought to keep the school open during the administration of former Director Jubal Yennie when the boiler went out, and it was replaced.

“This time, we couldn’t argue keeping our kids in an unsafe school,” said parent Ron Wimmer, who has a first-grader in the school of about 260 and has had three other children attend it over 11 years. 

“I knew that (closing) was going to be her recommendation.” said Wimmer, who has two sophomores at Sullivan South and a seventh-grader at Mary Hughes. “I’m disappointed we don’t have any more time than we do to shut down.”

Based on feedback at a Feb. 27 community meeting at Weaver, Rafalowski said, her board-approved plan is for Weaver students and staff to be shifted to two schools. Bluff City Elementary, presently at pre-K-5 facility, will be converted to a pre-K-4 school and all existing Bluff City Elementary and Weaver Elementary pre-K-4 students will be zoned there for the start of school in August.

Rafalowski also recommended that Bluff City Middle pick up the fifth grade from both schools, with the middle school becoming a 5-8 facility and rezoning fifth-graders from Bluff City Elementary and Weaver Elementary to Bluff City Middle.

Rafalowski also said the school system would allow Weaver parents to utilize any school in the system for their students, although bus transportation would be provided for them only to the Bluff City schools.

During public comment, former County Commissioner Dwight King, Derrick Paduch and Herschel Glover said the middle school needs to be in Piney Flats instead of near East on Weaver Pike, questioning the ability of Silver Grove Road to handle the additional traffic from a school and the cost of the proposed site, which is still in negotiations. They said housing growth is in Piney Flats, not around East. The new middle school would take in Holston Valley Middle, Bluff City Middle and 6-8 students from Mary Hughes.

Dan Page complained plans for both new schools, funded with a $140 million countywide bond shared with Kingsport, Bristol, Tenn., and Johnson City, already have outstripped the proposed budget. With plans for no pool in the high school off Exit 63 of Interstate 81, he said he wondered what else would be cut to make the budget. Sullivan North, South and most of Central students would be rezoned to the new school, with some shifted to a renovated East High.

Also, County Commissioner Baxter Hood spoke about an anonymous letter addressed to Rafalowski concerning employee morale at Rock Springs Elementary. He asked if morale is low at the school and if exit interviews could be done of retiring and other leaving employees. After the meeting, Rafalowski declined comment, while board Vice Chairman Randall Jones said such personnel matters, except those concerning the director, are not handled or discussed at board meetings. 

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