Sullivan BOE may reconsider calendar

Rick Wagner • Sep 30, 2019 at 5:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — If you are an employee, student or parent in the Sullivan County school system, don’t lock in your December 2020 travel and vacation plans just yet.

You might get to have an extra week of summer vacation time, but you may be in school until the day before Christmas Eve.

The calendar approved  at the Sept. 5 meeting may be changed to one in which students go half a day Dec. 23 but start a week later, Aug. 10 instead of Aug. 3.

Board of Education member Mark Ireson said at Thursday’s Board of Education work session that at the Oct. 3 board meeting he plans to make a motion to reconsider the school calendar vote after getting an email all board members got and getting input from others who wondered why the majority of survey results were disregarded, even though the margin was razor thin.

Of 1,507 informal votes cast, calendar A, which the board approved, got 744 votes or 49.4 percent. Calendar B got 763 votes or 50.6 percent. The currently approved calendar has a last fall term day of Friday, Dec. 18, instead of Wednesday, Dec. 23.

Ireson said he’s not saying he’s absolutely tied to approving the later-starting calendar but thinks maybe there could be a hybrid calendar. Under Roberts Rules of Order, he may introduce a resolution to reconsider since he voted for the earlier-starting calendar in the 7-0 vote. He said one emailer complained that the system went to the trouble of doing a survey but didn’t go by the results and that he’s gotten other negative feedback since the vote.

However, the survey was open to everybody and anybody, with no way of figuring out if the folks participating even had a connection to the school system. The survey also didn’t track the mixture of students, employees and parents in the voting mix. The nearly 50-50 split, school officials said back in September, also meant that no matter which calendar was chosen, about half those who participated wouldn’t get their preference.

Vice Chairman Randall Jones said that the later ending time for the fall term might interfere with folks who’ve already made reservations and plans for the holiday break, as well as lower attendance in the last few days of the term. That could affect learning as well as funding mechanisms based on the number of students attending.

Member Randall Gilmore said that two teachers told him they voted multiple times, one 17 times and one 14 times, to push for the calendar they preferred. With only 19 votes difference between the two choices, board members quipped that one person might have swung the vote.

Assistant Director of Schools Angie Buckles and Technology Supervisor Karen Nave said the informal survey allows multiple votes by the same person. In addition, requiring an email address and limiting votes to one per email is an option, but Buckles, who puts together the calendar proposals each year, said that might make folks think the system was keeping track of how they voted rather than just tallying votes.

Board attorney Pat Hull jokingly suggested going to paper ballots, but Nave laughed and said she’s been moving in the opposite direction for years. The system does electronic voting periodically to decide whether to do collaborative conferencing, which replaced collective bargaining for teachers in Tennessee.