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Should Sullivan, city school board members be on Education Committee?

Rick Wagner • Feb 10, 2020 at 7:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Members of the Sullivan County Board of Education, County Commission and the county mayor are at odds over the composition of a newly resurrected Education Committee.

The panel, which was disbanded a few years ago, recently restarted and met to organize Jan. 30.

BOE Chairman Michael Hughes said that Commissioners Mark Vance and Mark Hutton of Bristol suggested at the meeting that the committee have a representative from the school board, further saying they would like to see representatives from the Kingsport and Bristol school systems if that were legal and if the city systems agreed.

WHAT DOES COUNTY MAYOR THINK?

However, Mayor Richard Venable, who did not attend the entire meeting, Friday said that adding city or even county school board representatives “ain’t going to happen” and that he appointed the committee, which at the meeting last month elected Commissioner Angie Stanley of Colonial Heights as chairwoman.

Other members are Commissioners Alicia Starnes of Sullivan Gardens, Todd Broughton of Bloomingdale, Gary Stidham of the Kingsport area and a member yet to volunteer commissioner Venable is seeking, making for seven commissioners.

“How can they have an Education Committee and the school system not be involved?” Hughes said, adding that under the board action a committee of Director of Schools David Cox and Hughes or a designated school board member were appointed for the school board’s committee. 

“I think the committee needs to be between the County Commission, the school director and the (school board) Chairman, Michael Hughes,” Vance said Friday, adding that he sees the group as “re-establishing some degree of communications between the county school system and County Commission.” Vance said he also asked for a mission statement and purpose for the committee.

Hutton said he believed the newly reconstituted group was an effort to bridge the divide between the county school system and county government and city schools and county government. “It’s my understanding the committee was to be a liaison,” Hutton said Friday.

“It’s something to get beyond these years of feuds between the two groups,” Hutton said. “It’s news to me that Richard was opposed to the cities’ participation in an education committee.”

WHAT BROUGHT ISSUE TO THE FOREFRONT?

The matter came before the school board Thursday night, Hughes said, because member Mark Ireson wanted to have two school board representatives on the Education Committee and wanted to be one of them. Hughes said that the policy of the school board is that the chairman appoints committee members with approval of the full board, so Hughes said the board voted Thursday night to approve the committee with Hughes’ designee and Cox as an ex-officio member.

Ireson questioned whether Cox could vote, but school board attorney Pat Hull said he, or whoever the director of schools was, could. However, Hughes Thursday night and Venable Friday said it didn’t make any difference because the committee didn’t have anything to address with votes, only to make recommendations or have discussions.

“There’s not going to be any votes,” Venable said of the Education Committee.

IS THE COMMITTEE A LIAISON?

Hughes, Jones and Ireson Thursday night said they saw the group as a liaison of sorts between the school board and county commission, two groups that have battled over the size of the sewer line for the new Sullivan East Middle School that opened in January and who is responsible for road access to the new West Ridge High School to open in August of 2021.

Some on the commission have questioned the new high school, and King and Glover questioned the site for the new middle school and wanted a larger sewer line to it to serve future development, which an engineer said would cause the sewer line to stink during low flows when school was not in session. In addition, Hughes said the commission agreed to fund the bare minimum maintenance of effort amount required by state law for fiscal 2019-20, avoiding a potential shutdown of the whole system back in October if the state had withheld funding as Comptroller of the Treasure officials said the state would.

“They (county officials) want to exercise authority they don’t have,” Hughes said. “They only give us what they law says they have to give us.”

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