School closure options to be addressed in public comment Tuesday

Rick Wagner • Jan 6, 2019 at 9:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The potential closures of three Sullivan County schools in May likely will dominate the public comment period during Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

Two facilities would be closing earlier than 2021 as planned, and the other was set to be moved but not closed that year.

Parents, students, teachers and community members from Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee, Blountville Middle School and the middle school portion of Sullivan Gardens K-8 have indicated they plan to attend the meeting and voice their concerns.

However, because the matter is not on the agenda, they will address the BOE during the second public comment session at the end of the meeting, which will start at 6:30 p.m. in the first-floor conference room of the health and education building off the Blountville Bypass.

The BOE has taken no action on the proposals since it reviewed them at a Nov. 28 work session, and although Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski presented the ideas at a board retreat, she has made no recommendation about them.

School officials say the closings would save almost $1.4 million a year, helping offset a $1.6 million loss in renovation funds and another $350,000 or so going toward additional school resource officers.

IA was to be moved in 2021, while the other two were to be consolidated into new middle schools.


As reported Friday, the BOE is to vote Tuesday on a proposal to sue, if necessary, the County Commission for refusing to allow the board to use a restricted fund balance set aside for the new Sullivan East Middle School to fund a $1 million sewer line to serve the facility.

The board also is to vote on a proposal to hire Michael S. Royston, owner and founder of Impact Builders, Inc. and a First Tennessee Development District contractor, as the construction manager for the new middle school and West Ridge High School. He would be paid $45,000 a year with a contract running through Dec. 31, 2020 unless extended by the agreement of both parties. He would report to Charlie Hubbard, who is the project manager for both schools and supervisor of maintenance and custodial personnel for the school system.

In addition, the BOE is to vote to put out a request for bids for videoing school board meetings.


In addition to bad blood between the BOE and commission over the pending sewer line along Weaver Pike, the two bodies are at odds over the removal of $1.6 million in renovation funding in the current fiscal year budget and the extra $350,000 that is the school system’s share of the cost of new school resource officers.

“It’s our fiduciary responsibility to react when we have a loss,” Chairman Michael Hughes said.

“If they take it, then we have to make adjustments,” Hughes said. “What happens when we spend down to zero and we have a catastrophic event? What are we going to do?”

Mark Ireson said the former commission voted to take the $1.6 million, but the 24-member body’s five new commissioners make a majority.

“We’ve told them we are closing schools because they aren’t giving us money,” Ireson said.

Matthew Spivey responded, “That’s not at all what we did.”

Hughes asked for cost-saving ideas to be presented at the retreat, and Rafalowski raised the option of closing Innovation Academy, which was not slated to close, as well as Blountville Middle and the middle school portion of Sullivan Gardens K-8, which were slated to close when the new West Ridge High School opens in the fall of 2021.

“I personally don’t want to close any of them,” Spivey said, saying some elected officials’ “sole goal is to try to stop these school projects despite construction bids being let and the projects being underway.”

Ireson said he was “against the (high) school from the get-go” but now is working to make the schools the best that they can be.

Hughes also said misinformation has been disseminated about the school board not spending its renovation money. Out of $1.6 million appropriated the past three fiscal years, he said the board spent about $1 million annually but grew a surplus in the account to $2.3 million.

Ireson said some commissioners think that money should be spent.

“This spend it or lose it mentality is kind of scary,” Jones said of keeping money for a financial rainy day.