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Saturday, Apr. 19, 2014

School consolidation considered

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

NEW MADRID - New Madrid County R-1 officials are conducting a study into the feasibility of consolidating the district's three elementary schools.

Currently the district provides prekindergarten through fifth grade programs at Matthews, Lilbourn and New Madrid.

Approximately 789 students are in the elementary program with a staff of 48 teachers.

Dr. Mike Barnes, superintendent, said the R-1 Board of Education authorized the study due to the continuing decline in the district's enrollment.

"Like most Southeast Missouri school systems, the New Madrid County R-1 School District's student population is shrinking," said Barnes. "This year alone, the district's enrollment is down just over 100 students from last year's count."

According to Barnes, the 2001-02 school year decline was a 6 percent loss. Over the past 10 years, the district has averaged a 2 percent loss in student population annually.

During the February board meeting, Barnes advised the board of the results of a preliminary consolidation study.

Preliminary calculations indicate the district could save taxpayers in excess of $500,000 per year once a consolidated elementary program was implemented.

Proposed in the initial study is a new centralized elementary complex of two 350-student elementary programs housed under one roof. The two programs would be divided by grade levels with the youngest students assigned to one wing of the school and the older children to the other wing, the superintendent explained.

School Board President Randy Porter noted while many parents will be less than enthusiastic about further consolidation of the district's operations, others would point to the success of the district's high school and middle school programs.

Also for some district residents the cost-savings the consolidation would bring would be of primary importance, Porter said. He pointed out past consolidation efforts have saved local taxpayers millions of dollars.

"I am not saying that providing our community's young people an opportunity to receive a world class education is not important to this group, but the cost of that education is of particular importance to them. If consolidating our elementary program proves to be doable, I see it as a major breakthrough in our ability to more effectively and economically educate, serve and house our district's youngest students," said Porter.

The financial advantages of the consolidation were of concern to Jean Higgerson, R-1 Board treasurer, also.

"Think about it, once the program is in place and savings are fully realized, in any five-year period, local taxpayers would have $2.5 million or more in their pockets to spend on their homes, to reinvest in their own businesses or to spend on their children's college education," said Higgerson. "Any way you look at it, a half million dollars a year is a significant amount of savings."

Another issue Barnes said would be of concern to parents is transportation.

According to the superintendent, most of the district's prekindergarten through fifth grade students are already riding school buses or being brought to school by their parents.

"What some people may not realize is that Parma's pre-k through fifth grade students who are assigned to the Matthews elementary site are already riding a bus 23 miles each way to school. Building an elementary complex at the high school/middle school site would actually reduce the distance these kids ride by 15 or so miles a day," he said.

With the New Madrid Elementary School located outside the city proper, Barnes said the students attending this site are either brought by bus or their parents to the school. He estimated 65 percent of Lilbourn's students and 82 percent of the Matthews-area students now ride buses.

"Would there be a somewhat longer ride for some of our youngest students in the morning and the afternoon if the elementary program were to be moved to the high school/middle school site?" Barnes asked, then answered: "Yes."

The in-depth feasibility study should be completed this spring and presented to the board for a decision.

If the board does approve consolidation, the final decision would ultimately be left up to the voters in the district, said Barnes. While the ballot measure would not require an additional debt service tax levy beyond the current 24-cent limit, it would require voter approval to issue bonds to fund the construction.