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Playground funding about to change for Kingsport schools

Rick Wagner • Jun 23, 2018 at 6:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Two things could soon happen that Kingsport City Schools officials say would fundamentally alter playground funding for the better.

At its retreat last Saturday, the Board of Education discussed two changes that could directly impact future playground funding for Kennedy and Johnson elementary schools, as well as other playgrounds across the system.

A foundation recently established to help with such projects has not yet provided any financial assistance for any playground improvements and funnels donations through the city, which education officials said is cumbersome. Also, the school system does not directly fund school playgrounds.

Both these things, however, might be about to change.

KCS EDUCATION FOUNDATION TO THE RESCUE?

The board informally agreed to give its blessing to a plan for the KCS Education Foundation, headed by former school board member Pat Turner, to come under the umbrella of the Kingsport Community Foundation, which is under the East Tennessee Foundation.

Turner said the KCS Education Foundation was chartered in 2015 with former Mayor Jeanette Blazier as vice president and Lynn Johnson as secretary/treasurer. Turner’s husband, retired physician Harry Turner, said the East Tennessee Foundation has about 470 nonprofits under its umbrella and does all the paperwork plus gives better interest returns than the 0 percent received now.

“It really needs to be separate” from the city,” BOE President Susan Lodal said.

A donor stands ready to make what she called a “sizable” contribution to the Johnson project but would like a tax deduction, Lodal said.

The change would enable the tax deduction credit and make it easier for anyone wanting to donate to a playground or other school project to go through the same portal, the KCS Foundation. Lodal and other school officials said it also would make it less expensive for the KCS Education Foundation Inc. to comply with 501(c)(3) standards at a lower cost than on its own. 

SCHOOL SYSTEM TO FUND PLAYGROUNDS?

The board also informally told Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse to move forward with the process of proposing a change in the general policy that the school board would not consider playground funding requests.

“As a school system, we stay out of the playground business,” Moorhouse said, explaining that playground funding was left to parent teacher organizations and parent teacher associations at individual schools.

However, after seeing photos of the disparity in conditions of playgrounds across the KCS system, including the Kennedy playground that was obviously in the overall worst shape, board members told Moorhouse to look into the matter and propose a change.

“For many places, it’s (an elementary playground) the city park,” Assistant Superintendent of Administration Andy True said.

Also, Moorhouse said some preliminary checking has found it would cost about $1 million make all the playgrounds meet federal Americans with Disabilities requirements. 

Member Karen Reed-Wright suggested possibly funding one playground per fiscal year and then moving on to another playground the next year, while member Eric Hyche suggested getting every playground up to a minimum standard, and then PTOs or PTAs could improve on that as they wished or were able. True said the playgrounds obviously have differing needs. 

Member Todd Golden had a more direct approach for Kennedy, suggesting a district-wide fundraiser just for that playground.

“I had no idea,” he said after seeing photos of the old playground’s state of disrepair.

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