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EDITORIAL: County Commission should move forward on school facilities plan

• Dec 11, 2016 at 2:00 PM

The Sullivan County Commission has a decision to make Monday that will have consequences for our schools and children for generations to come.

The school board has presented a facilities plan, three years in the making, that will require the commission to fund $140 million in bonds to execute. At stake is the long-term future and direction of Kingsport, Bristol and Sullivan County schools.

It is worthy of note that the plan is a historical first. This facilities plan is the result of direct collaboration and compromise among the three school systems, a first for our county. A partnership of equals is never easy and often is not fully satisfactory to any of the parties involved. This plan is no exception.

The location of the proposed schools is not necessarily ideal for all students. The value and cost of North High School to Kingsport is a question. Some people are concerned about proposed or future school closings.

Some believe the ultimate cost of the proposal is seriously understated. In fact, good, honest and well-meaning people can differ on this plan. It’s not necessarily perfect for anyone. But the perfect solution for each of the three systems is likely a very costly venture for county and city taxpayers.

Each of the three systems is facing substantial new investments to upgrade, modernize or expand their facilities. For the systems to pursue the perfect solution independently of each other will likely cost taxpayers many millions more than this collaborative approach.

But there is much to be gained from working together as well.

Sullivan County students get a new world-class Comprehensive Technical Education high school and desperately needed upgrades to other schools. Kingsport gets a critically needed new middle school and a Science and Technology Center. Bristol gets the money to build a new middle school. Businesses get first-class systems to help recruit top talent to their enterprise. The taxpayers get a great value for a relatively modest investment.

Most importantly, our students get the opportunity for an educational experience, modernized classrooms, and a curriculum that is competitive with some of the best in the country.

It is true and fair to both observe and be concerned about travel issues and ultimate costs in this plan. Here’s what’s not fair or honest to criticize.

First, that the planning has been hasty or secretive. It has been a completely transparent process over at least three years. Second, that there are less expensive alternatives. Virtually any other option will add costs to the plan. And finally, that we can simply do nothing and it will all work out.

Our schools are outdated and in critical need of new investment. Doing nothing is putting our children’s future at stake.

Our school boards are to be commended for their diligence in bringing this highly cost-effective and fiscally responsible facilities plan forward. We congratulate them for the historic collaborative approach to this issue, and we urge the County Commission to step forward, pass this proposal, and begin the improvement process for our schools and our children.

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