Sullivan BOE's Harris not seeking re-election

Rick Wagner • Mar 18, 2010 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Veteran Sullivan County Board of Education member Larry Harris announced Thursday he is not seeking re-election in August, citing health issues.

“I’ve served over a third of my life on the school board,” Harris said in a statement at the end of a BOE work session on the $15.34 million Ketron Intermediate School renovation and expansion project. “I’ve enjoyed my time in public service but will not be running for re-election.”

The five-term Harris, 62, began his service on the BOE in 1986 at age 38, serving two six-year terms and then three four-year terms for a total of 24 years.

The move leaves County Commissioner Sam Jones of Colonial Heights, who filed his petition to seek the District 4 seat Tuesday, so far as the lone contender. The deadline to file a petition in the nonpartisan race is noon April 1.

Harris, who had picked up a petition to run but had not filed it, said at the end of the work session that he made the decision after learning he will have to undergo cardiac rehabilitation following heart surgery last week.

“I planned on running until this came up,” Harris said in an interview after the meeting.

Harris said he had heart catheterization and two stents put in last week but then learned he would have to go through cardiac rehabilitation.

“Things just came up in the past couple of weeks that led to this decision,” Harris said.

Harris said he would continue his work as the voice of Sullivan South High School basketball and football games. He works in sales at WQUT-FM and does some voice-over work there.

Director of Schools Jack Barnes and Janie Barnes, his wife and spokeswoman for the school system, after the meeting thanked Harris for his years of service.

Jack Barnes is to leave as director of schools June 30 following the BOE’s vote last year not to extend his contract. The BOE is having the Tennessee School Boards Association conduct a search for finalists, with the goal to choose a new director 45 days before the August election. Otherwise, the BOE can’t choose a new director of schools until after the election.

Harris’ announcement came as a surprise at the end of the work session, when Jack Barnes was out of the room and BOE members and others were getting ready to leave.

Harris was one of four BOE members who voted not to renew Jack Barnes’ two-year contract past June 30. He was joined by Jack Bales, Jim Kiss and Dan Wells.

The same four also voted earlier this year to settle a potential age and gender discrimination lawsuit from Brookside Elementary Principal Debbie Morelock for $150,000.

Jack Barnes in mid-2008 declined to keep Morelock in the Central Office and did away with the position her husband, Chris Morelock, had as an accountant.

However, that settlement has not yet occurred because the insurance company wants the school system to pay the money up front and then be reimbursed.

In the potential District 2 race, newcomer Wendell “Butch” Hinson of Lynn Garden filed March 9 for the seat held by Wells, who has picked up a petition but had not filed as of Thursday, according to the Sullivan County Election Office Web site.

In District 6, incumbent Jerry Greene of Bristol filed Feb. 22, and no one else has picked up a petition.

The other BOE members are Chairman Ron Smith, who was not at the work session, and Vice Chair Betty Combs. Smith, Combs and Greene voted to extend Jack Barnes’ contract.

During the meeting, Beeson, Lusk & Smith architect Don Solt and Steve Wilson of Spoden and Wilson engineering presented plans for the Ketron project.

Solt said the BOE needs to approve the concept drawings presented to them Thursday at the BOE’s April meeting so site grading can be bid out and work can begin in late June or early July.

The federal Qualified School Construction Bond funding — paid back through a low-interest loan — will pay for adding 66,000 square feet to the 74,000-square-foot building, originally built as a high school in 1953.

Ten percent of the amount must be spent or under contract by mid-June, and the whole project must be done in three years.

Cedar Grove Elementary, Kingsley Elementary and possibly Brookside Elementary are to close after Ketron is completed.

In addition, the board at the April meeting is to decide whether to close Akard Elementary near Bristol, Tenn., and move those students to Blountville Elementary, freeing up about $250,000 in savings that could go toward retiring the Ketron bond debt.

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