BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Board of Education split 5-2 on updating its facilities timeline to recognize construction delays and to remove any mention of closing Indian Springs Elementary School.
Parent Susan Lawson during public comment urged the BOE not to close Indian Springs, which school system officials had said was not the plan in the past few years. However, member Mark Ireson said he thought the BOE indicated to county commissioners that the facility would be closed when the board sought funding for Phase 1 of the facilities plan that includes construction of the new West Ridge High School and Sullivan East Middle.
Lawson said she homeschooled her three older children but found Indian Springs a good fit for her two younger ones, including one who needed reading help.
Juanita Larkins Housewright, who blames mold at Indian Springs for causing her daughter’s 2017 death, tried to speak at the end of the meeting but did not sign up for public comment. BOE Chairman Michael Hughes did not allow Housewright to speak but said she could sign up and speak at the March 7 board meeting.
“I don’t want any of our schools to close,” said Ireson, who along with Paul Robinson voted against the facilities timeline upgrade. However, he said the school board made it clear to the County Commission in 2015 paperwork that it planned to close older facilities and mentioned Indian Springs by name.
However, Vice Chairman Randall Jones said the document never was intended to be written in stone, an opinion shared by BOE attorney Pat Hull.
“We did not approve the closure of any particular schools,” Jones said.
He also said the board in August voted for a “two high school plan” and a timeline, with no individual elementary schools mentioned.
“We told them we’re doing this to close our older facilities,” Ireson countered. “The only place not losing schools is the Central (High) zone. If you make a plan, stick with your plan.”
He also said that without rolling Indian Springs into the Holston Elementary building, after Holston Middle is moved to the new Central Middle, that the Holston building will be at “30 percent capacity.” Options discussed in 2015 included moving the central office to Holston or housing all elementary schools in the Central High building.
Ireson also questioned whether Jones’ daughter working as a teacher at Indian Springs was a conflict in Jones’ moving to amend the timeline to make it clear Indian Springs is not targeted for closing.
“My daughter working there had no more impact on the decision than your wife working at Rock Springs” Elementary, Jones responded. “I have no personal interest in it.”
Hull said unless Jones had a financial interest in his daughter’s income, such as living in the same home and co-mingling funds, it would not be a conflict.
Those who voted for the timeline change were Hughes, Jones, Jane Thomas, Matthew Spivey and Randall Gilmore, the latter of whom was in Nashville but attended the meeting remotely by Skype.
At Hughes’ request, the board vote also said that Mary Hughes School, which will become an elementary only after the middle school portion shifts to the new East Middle in 2020, could be renovated or replaced.
A motion made by Ireson to delay the opening the of new middle school to August 2020 failed 2-5, with only Ireson and Robinson voting for it.