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Sullivan school board earmarks fund balance for school projects

Rick Wagner • Jul 10, 2018 at 12:29 PM

BLOUNTVILLE  — Sullivan County school leaders Monday earmarked any excess money left over from the 2017-18 budget, whatever that amount is, for new school construction projects.

The board, which will meet Thursday in called session to consider the low bid just shy of $61 million for the 1,700-student West Ridge High School near Tri-Cities Airport, also heard from an opponent of building the new high school.

BOARD VOTED SPLIT 5-2 ON FUND BALANCE RESOLUTION

The vote to earmark the as-yet undetermined fund balance for the fiscal year ended June 30 was 5-2, with members Mark Ireson and Jane Thomas of  voting no and Chairman Michael Hughes, Vice Chairman Randall Jones, Jerry Greene, Matthew Spivey and Dan Wells voting yes.

“It just seems odd to me we’re doing this for the first time ever,” said Ireson, who has opposed the new high school off Exit 63 of Interstate 81. “I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”

The County Commission recently declined to fund a proposed road that would provide direct access to the school other than via the winding Lynn Road.

The 1,700-student West Ridge in the fall of 2020 is to take the place of Sullivan North and South high schools, as well as most of Central, with some in the Central zone being shifted to the East High zone.

MONEY QUESTIONS

Ireson also asked how much of the more than $87 million the county system has on hand for construction of West Ridge High and Sullivan East Middle, the first new county school projects since the late 1970s, as well as renovation of Sullivan East High. Rafalowski said a spreadsheet will be presented with that figure at a called work session to start 4:30 p.m. Thursday, to be followed by a called meeting to consider the high school low bid of almost $61 million.

As for details of the draft 2018-19 budget, she said they would come Thursday, too, but said the system has eliminated two maintenance positions and 23 teaching positions through attrition for the draft document. When questioned by Thomas, Rafalowski said that the school system no longer would pay a stipend and plane insurance for retired Air Force Lt. Col. Bill Powley, a former JROTC instructor for the county, who gives flying lessons to students across the region. Rafalowski also said students no longer would be allowed to fly during school hours but could pursue the opportunity after school and on weekends. 

OPPOSITION IN PUBLIC COMMENT

Jason Horton of Blountville, a North graduate living in the Central zone and with a student in the Central zone, spoke against the new high school.  “We probably pretty much understand this school is coming,” Horton said. However, he said the county system needs to work on things such as Americans with Disabilities compliance in existing schools.

“Do you all realize you don’t have community support?” Horton said. “Our voices don’t matter.”

He said all sorts of surprises are hiding in 1,100 pages of “scope of work” documents and said the school seems to be built for children of folks who may move into future developments around the school site, not existing North, South and Central students. 

“We are North. We are Central. We are South. We do not want to be like D-B (Kingpsort’s Dobyns-Bennett High School).”

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