Sullivan County commissioners revisit proposal to discuss consolidating Sullivan County school systems due to COVID-19 pandemic

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SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) Money worries caused by coronavirus will lead to another big discussion at Thursday night’s Sullivan County Commission meeting.

Pheben Kassahun found out some think it is time, once again, to consider school consolidation. The item can be here found on the agenda as Item 7.

Sullivan County Commissioner, Todd Broughton, said consolidating school systems could help avoid sales tax increases in the county due to COVID-19.

However, school board leaders say this move would be costly for everyone.

“The cities have a major competitive advantage because they have county tax payer dollars and city tax payer dollars. Maybe the county will have to put a little bit more money in– maybe we would save it on the back side with less administration,” Sullivan County Commissioner, Todd Broughton said. “I find it hard to believe that funding 3+ the Johnson City School system, in funding, that we can’t save money to administrative costs that we’re triplicating.”

Sullivan County Schools Board of Education Chair, Michael Hughes, said he is open-minded about possible changes.

“Anything that came about that was good for Kingsport, Bristol, Sullivan County and our students and our tax payers and our teachers, I’d be in favor of that,” Sullivan County Schools Board of Education Chair, Michael Hughes said. “If we was consolidated, all the teachers would come up to that level of pay, if it’s done the way the law is laid out now.”

On the contrary, Kingsport City School Board of Education president, Carrie Upshaw, said doing so would be expensive.

“I know people bandy about the rumor of that, ‘Oh, it would save money’ and it would lower administrative costs and that sort of thing,” Kingsport City School Board of Education president, Carrie Upshaw said. “If you have two systems that merge, you have to bring all of the teachers up to whatever the higher pay-scale is. Just the cost of aligning the teachers, and again these are old numbers, it would be roughly $6 million a year just in salary costs.”

Upshaw is referencing a 2016 study that can be found here.

Upshaw told Kassahun that Kingsport City Schools would face a problem in disregarding the students it serves outside of Sullivan County.

Upshaw said, “We have a school that is in Hawkins County George Washington Elementary, and we have a population that resides in Hawkins County.

Bristol Tennessee City Schools Board chair, Nelson Pyle, is also against the idea. He said the city schools have a broader student support system than the county schools.

“The City of Bristol and the City of Kingsport decide they want more for the children than what the county would provide, and so they pay additional money to have a little better opportunity for the children. Sullivan County could probably do the same thing if they wanted to. If they wanted to form an area outside the cities, and be equal that’s fine,” Bristol Tennessee City Schools Board chair, Nelson Pyle said.

If consolidation is considered, Broughton said it could be anything from becoming one system to just sharing facilities.

Broughton said, “West Bridge is under construction. When it’s open, it has the potential to share CTE classes, has been discussed. There’s so many different revenues during this– going in and out from the school system, that it would appear that there would be options available. We just need to sit down and look at them.”

Broughton said he believe political games are going on at the expense of teachers and students.

“Last year, the Sullivan County BOE actualy brought the State Comptroller into the issue, and said if we didn’t give them $800,000, they were going to have to close schools. Well, they didn’t close schools and they didn’t get the funding,” Broughton said.

A vote Thursday night would be the first of two to form the committee to discuss the possibility of consolidation/forming a working alliance, before any consolidation could take place.

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