Work begins to form own school district
MATTHEWS - The crowd was slightly smaller but their determination to maintain their school just as strong as local residents gathered for a second time to consider their options.
Residents met Sunday afternoon to direct actions to fight a proposal which would close the Matthews Elementary School. The New Madrid County R-1 School District has directed a feasibility study be conducted to look at the consolidation of the district's three elementary schools into one building located off Interstate 55 adjacent to the current Central High School and Middle School.
"This issue is about our children," said R.D. Mills, a local resident who served as moderator for the meeting. "This issue is about our town."
Those attending were provided packets of information detailing the district's initial proposal for the feasibility study and the community's response. Also it included the written statement read by Mills to the school board during a work session on March 11 and a report from the committee on the meeting.
In his statement, Mills noted they presented a petition with 361 names opposing the closing of the school. "The people feel the school closing will create a long bus ride for our small children, which will create a hardship to them, and the closing would definitely have a negative impact on our small community. It will take the heart and soul out of our town," he read in his statement.
In response, Dr. Mike Barnes, superintendent, explained to the committee the consolidation was under consideration as a cost-saving measure. The district has estimated the consolidation could save local taxpayers in excess of $500,000 per year once a consolidated program was fully implemented combining the elementary schools now located at Matthews, New Madrid and Lilbourn.
Polling the group on what should be their next step, a majority raised their hands when Mills asked if they should consider forming their own school district, leaving the R-1 District. Adding it would not be easy, Mills explained it would require money and an attorney.
The group mentioned several attorneys and agreed Mills should meet with one to consider if he would represent them. The lawyer will be asked to prepare a petition which would begin the process for an election on leaving the R-1 School District.
Several questions and comments were offered by the audience. One citizen asked which grades were being considered to be part of the school; he explained he was a farm worker and would not be able to pay out-of-district tuition for a high school student to attend school out of the Matthews School District.
Others asked how many students would be involved. According to Matthews Mayor Gene Curtis, there would be 237 students if the district comprised the current kindergarten through eighth graders from the proposed Matthews District.
Another inquired what it would cost to run such a district. While Mills couldn't offer an exact figure, he emphasized the valuation of the proposed district should "provide plenty of money to educate the children."
A map showed the proposed district to include the Big Prairie and West townships, which extend into the southern portion of Sikeston's business district. Earlier it was estimated the district's valuation at $43 million.
Also Mills urged citizens to protest the passage of Senate Bill 1050 that deals with school boundary issues.
The group agreed to another public meeting on April 21 to discuss progress while the committee will meet weekly. In addition a benefit dinner to provide funds to cover the cost of postage and other expenses will be planned.