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Tuesday, March 5, 2002

Fight consolidation

An open letter to the Matthews and Sikeston area voters of the New Madrid R-1 School District.

Back in the late 1960s, voters in the Matthews School District were given the choice of consolidating with the New Madrid R-1 School District or Sikeston R-6. After lengthy debate, the decision was made to align with New Madrid. Much of the decision to align with New Madrid was based on promises made to the voters by New Madrid R-1 that things would be kept pretty much as they were, but that consolidation would allow the systems to function much more efficiently, due to the elimination of a lot of overlapping expenditures.

Only a couple years thereafter, the voters of the Matthews area woke up to the fact that consolidation also would come to mean that they were losing their high school. Students would be required to travel back and forth to the new Howardville facility for their secondary education. While this had not been anticipated by many of those original supporters of consolidation, hard feeling were smoothed over by the promises then made to leave the elementary school alone. At least the little kids wouldn't have to make that long bus ride twice a day, like the older kids did.

Since that time, the Matthews area voters have been very supportive of the R-1 District. They have voted favorably on all the bond issues, and they have dutifully sent their children on that long daily round trip to the Howardville. Three times they voted as a block against attempts by the Sikeston R-6 District to annex property in the northern end of the R-1 district, believing that the loss of potential revenues from those areas would negatively impact the R-1 district, as they had been told.

Now comes the payback time for the voters of the Matthews area. Now, the New Madrid R-1 is actively planning to forever eliminate the elementary school here, the last vestige of the once-proud Pirate domain. This is the thanks we get for supporting the administration of R-1, and it's time we stood up and said, "NO THANKS!"

In the recent redistricting squabble in which Sikeston prevailed, the central argument made by the Sikeston group was that if New Madrid R-1 wanted to keep that property so badly, what was its plan for making the capital improvements necessary to support that area. Superintendent Mike Barnes obviously had no answer for that question. Now, less than eight months later, not only does Dr. Barnes still have no answer for that question, he now intends to SHRINK the infrastructure in the northern end of the district by eliminating the Matthews Elementary School, the last vestige of our community pride.

This is truly an outrage! Many of us feel betrayed by the proposal to close our last school. We can't help but feel the irony that even though the northern end of our R-1 district provides such a disproportionately large share of the district's revenue, it is this area that is being abandoned by our school system. All the promises made since consolidation in the 1960s have now been broken.

We are losing the last vestige of local control over our own schools. Dr. Barnes even acknowledges that there would be "a somewhat longer ride for our youngest student in the morning and afternoon if our elementary program were to be moved to the high school/middle school site.

Fellow citizens, isn't there a better alternative available to us rather than this? The answer is, "YES!" but it won't come easy. However, we must show ourselves willing to fight this last battle for our children, because they represent our future. We owe them this effort.

If you are interested in pursuing alternatives to this unacceptable situation please meet with other like-minded people at the City of Matthews Community Building, north Calvin Street, Sunday the 10th of March at 2 p.m.


Gene Curtis

Mayor, City of Matthews