Commission addresses annexation/city schools dilemma

By Julie Fann
tar Staff

As it considered several annexation requests during its monthly meeting Tuesday, the Elizabethton Planning Commission had to reconsider how adding families with school-age children will impact the Elizabethton City School System.
   The discussion arose because a citizen asked Director of Planning and Development David Ornduff to approve that his children be able to attend Elizabethton City Schools because his property is one of four that front a portion of Broad Street Extension being reconsidered for annexation.
   "We're still waiting word from the city school system as to whether they can take the children that are proposed in the annexation area," Ornduff said.
   Ornduff explained to the commission how any annexation alters city schools in terms of funding and its relationship with the city and the state. The annexation of Carter County's west end resulted in the addition of 645 new residents, 97 of whom, according to Ornduff, are school-age children.
   Ornduff said he had sent a letter in August to Superintendent of City Schools Judy Blevins, requesting information regarding enrollment and had not yet received a response.
   "I appreciate his request. We will do our best, and we will get the request passed on to the city attorney and ask that it be considered at the September meeting of the City Council," Ornduff said.
   One commission member asked how the property taxes annexed residents pay figures into the cost of accommodating their children in city schools.
   "Taxes pay for some things, but not for one year. When you annex, it bumps out a tuition-paying kid, which is revenue that comes into the schools, then that has to be accounted for. The additional revenue has to come from somewhere, and it usually comes from City Council through appropriations to the schools," Ornduff said.
   The Elizabethton City School System is required to comply with state-mandated laws. Under those laws, in grades K-3, classroom size cannot exceed 20 students on average, according to Blevins.
   On August 23, Blevins said the annexation of Carter County's west end 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 School.
   Blevins said the reason more students did not arrive the first day of school was due to a lack of transportation, since the school system doesn't yet have buses that travel to the area.
   School systems that exceed state-mandated student numbers can be fined up to $50,000, according to Blevins, who also expressed concern that tuition-paying county students may be required to leave to make room for those annexed.
   Concern over the annexation prompted the school board to begin reconstruction of Harold McCormick Elementary School. However, that reconstruction has not begun since it is contingent upon approval by the state and the architect who has been hired to do the necessary work.
   The commission considered and approved the annexation of Emmanuel Village, owned by Emmanuel School of Religion. Ornduff said though several school-age children live in the area, only two have proposed attending city schools.
   The Stateline Road area which extends from the county garage across U.S. Highway 19E and back to the existing city limits was also re-approved for annexation. According to Ornduff, no school-age children live in that area.
   The four properties fronting a portion of the Broad Street Extension were also approved for annexation. The commission also approved a request by Frank Kendall for preliminary and final plat approval for Okolona Acres Subdivision.
   At the end of the meeting, Chairman Victor DeLoach asked members why four stop signs had been placed in the area surrounding the veteran's war monument on Elk Avenue.
   "Who decided that? You can't see who's on the other side. Why was that done?" he said.