Sullivan school board to take stance on Educational Savings Accounts

Rick Wagner • Mar 29, 2019 at 3:01 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s school board is set to vote Tuesday on a resolution opposing proposed Tennessee Educational Savings Accounts, or ESAs, under consideration by the General Assembly — legislation that board member Matthew Spivey said is simply another name for vouchers.

The board discussed the issue at a work session on Thursday. Tuesday’s meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. in the first-floor meeting room of the health and education building off the Blountville Bypass.


Republican Gov. Bill Lee supports the ESAs, which would allow parents or guardians of students in the bottom 10 percent lowest-performing school districts in the state to move out of those districts by spending public money that otherwise would have gone toward their public education for private or parochial (religious) schools. Home school students recently were drawn out of the legislation in committee action on House Bill 939.

“They’re getting closer and closer to a traditional voucher system,” Spivey said of ESAs, which are opposed by the Tennessee School Boards Association, Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, Tennessee Education Association and Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Initially, the plan would cost $125 million over three years, and for that time public school systems would be held harmless by being reimbursed for those lost funds. Spivey and Sullivan County Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said the legislation is being amended almost on a daily basis and has what Spivey called lax accountability.

“I just wish the state would decide to spend $125 million on public education,” Spivey said.

Although none of those low-performing districts are in Northeast Tennessee, Spivey said shifting $125 million to the program would impact education statewide for all children, not to mention the possibility for further shifts and growth of the program into a more traditional voucher program.

Board Chairman Michael Hughes said that the legislation for students using ESAs would require only Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program testing in English and math, not other subjects; have no end-of-course exams; have no ACT exams and have no mandatory civics test for graduating seniors.


The board at Tuesday’s meeting also may consider getting a real estate attorney to advise the board on how it could handle revision clauses in the deed to the Holston Institute property near Tri-Cities Airport. The main school building is on land that if no longer used for educational purposes is supposed to revert to the heirs of the family that donated the land for use as a school in the 19th century. Board attorney Pat Hull said it might be expensive and difficult to find the heirs, although it might be possible to give part of the land to Northeast State Community College or get a court to undo the reversion clause.

In addition, the board is to consider two bids on providing live videos of school board meetings. However, Rafalowski said because one of the bidders wanted to use a private YouTube page for the videos instead of doing the live stream on the school system’s website as the request for proposals said, the two bidders might be be contacted for more information. Hughes said the board could vote on something to do with video on Tuesday.

The board also will vote to seek school fees at the same level as in the past two school years and vote to move regular meetings from the first Tuesday to the first Thursday of each month starting in June. Work sessions would be the last Thursday of each month.


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