School board says yes to land, no to D.C. trip

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The Elizabethton Board of Education approved a land swap with Citizens Bank and decided T.A. Dugger's 8th grade's annual trip to Washington, D.C. was not a capital idea at Thursday night's board meeting.
   Citizens Bank will pay the school system $7,500 for the .135 acre property located between the tennis courts and an open tract of land behind the Boys & Girls Club, according to Rondald Taylor, assistant director of schools. The school will receive the title to a .024 acre of land just off Hudson Drive that overlays the tennis courts.
   The vote came after school officials were advised the bank's property overlaid part of the tennis courts at the Elizabethton High School tennis courts off Hudson Drive.
   "We are in violation of city code," said Taylor. "If another tenant buys the land and makes it an issue, we would have no access from Hudson Drive ... none.
   "They could make us pay for this at our own expense with no expense to a new tenant."
   The school will receive the bank's property at no cost, according to Taylor. The bank will also pick up court costs and attorney fees involved in the transaction, he said.
   Taylor said city administration and city council members had discussed purchasing the entire tract of land behind the Boys & Girls Club some years back. However, Taylor said a dearth of city funds had effectively ended that proposition.
   He also noted that Joe LaPorte of Citizens Bank had mentioned the larger parcel of land behind the Boys & Girls Club could be on the block of sale in the near future.
   "At least we are able to get this straightened out and have access to our tennis courts," said Dr. Judy Blevins, director of schools.
   The board also voted 5-0 to rescind the annual request for 8th grade students from T.A. Dugger Junior High School. School board members deemed the trip too hazardous given the U.S. military's action in Iraq and the nation's elevated homeland security threat condition remaining at "high" status.
   T.A. Dugger Principal Regina Cates said the Washington trip had been an annual event for roughly 25 years. She said some parents had told her their children would not be going to Washington. However, she added the school had a waiting list for students eager to go if others dropped out.
   Cates also said most parents had left the decision to take the trip up to teachers and the school board.
   T.A. Dugger 8th graders made the Washington, D.C. trip in May 2002 after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
   "It is a really special trip for the 8th grade kids," said Janelle Johnson, a teacher at T.A. Dugger and mother of one of the 8th grade students who asked the board to weigh the importance of the trip.
   "I hope in your decision you consider the magnitude of what you are taking away from the children," she said. "It is almost unpatriotic of us not to go."
   Chairman Dr. Robert Sams said that while he initially felt the trip should take place, he did have some reservations about potential safety and liability concerns given the state of the world.
   "This is a job that really the parents should say yes or no to," said Sams. "We have to consider the security of the children."
   Cates said an alternative trip plan would take the students to Chattanooga and to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. The board voted to rescind the trip request provided an alternative trip was submitted for approval at next month's board meeting.
   In other business, the board approved 5-0 to purchase a Dell computer server to host the system's e-mail system. The purchase will create an in-house server for the school system's e-mail system.
   "Hopefully, we will be able to eliminate viruses coming in with more control over it," said Joey Trent, the system's director of technology.
   The school system's e-mail is routed through a server in Nashville and then back to the system.
   "If I want to send an e-mail to someone across the hall, it goes to Nashville first," said Blevins. "The state's e-mail system goes down quite often."
   Taylor said the system's funding was dependent on their ability to communicate with the state Department of Education to keep paperwork processing.
   Trent said another major concern was the investigation by state and federal authorities into the Education Networks of America, an Internet company which has landed millions of dollars in state contracts. The company's two founders are friends of former governor, Don Sundquist.
   "Right now the message we are getting from the state is our Internet and e-mail are only going to get worse," he said.