Annexation poses transportation problem for new city schools' students

By Julie Fann

A transportation shortage has delayed the addition of many new Elizabethton City Schools' students who live in the recently annexed west end of Carter County, according to Judy Blevins, Elizabethton City Schools Superintendent.
   Blevins said Friday the annexation resulted in only five new kindergarten students at Westside Elementary school and possibly a few at Elizabethton High School and T.A. Dugger Junior High.
   "At this time that's all that we know. The reason why we probably didn't get more students is because we didn't have transportation to that area. Mr. Stahl said we have five years to purchase more buses to bring those students in," Blevins said.
   A census conducted by city employees a few months ago confirmed 645 new Elizabethton city residents resided on annexed properties fronting the Milligan Highway to the Johnson City line and properties fronting Dave Buck Road to the intersection of Glanzstoff Highway.
   "According to law, you have up to five years to extend services. We have not billed or collected for any property taxes just yet. It will be up to the school board, though, to decide how they are going to fund and time that service," said City Manager Charles Stahl.
   Concern over the annexation prompted the school board to begin reconstruction of Harold McCormick Elementary School in the event that more students caused overcrowding.
   "We have to comply with state-mandated laws. Under those laws, in grades K-3, classroom size cannot exceed 20 students on average," Blevins said.
   Reconstruction at Harold McCormick has not yet begun since it is contingent upon approval from the state and the architect who has been hired to perform the necessary work.
   "We're just on hold, waiting," Blevins said. Renovation will transform the auxiliary gym into three extra classrooms.
   School systems that exceed state-mandated student numbers can be fined up to $50,000, according to Blevins.
   "They set that fine high so that we'll have to hire another teacher, but we don't have any classrooms for another teacher," Blevins said. "We're already packed, so we would be forced to tell tuition-paying county students, 'we're sorry, but you have to go back to the county.'"
   At this point, the city school system has been spared having to make that decision.