It's time to develop school facilities plan

Saturday, August 20, 2016

It's that time of year when students return to school and parents -- some at least -- battle with the empty nest syndrome.

The school year is always an exciting time despite what some students will admit. It's a combination of learning and structure that is essential to molding the future leaders of our city, our region and our nation.

Enrollment figures for Sikeston Public Schools will not be fully reported for a couple more weeks but the student count here this year will probably hit somewhere around 3,400 students or so. Local schools ended last May with 3,353 students enrolled.

The school population here has consistently fallen over the past decade and is down from over 4,000 students or more at its peak.

That drop in the student population is cause for concern on some levels but, in fact, it also mirrors the steady decline in Sikeston's overall population for the past three decades.

I read this week where Jackson Public Schools are welcoming over 5,000 students this year. And they are welcoming these new students in new school buildings approved by Jackson voters.

I also recently had an opportunity to see the new school facilities and football stadium in Poplar Bluff -- which, by the way, is one of the most impressive high school stadiums in the state.

Sikeston voters two years ago soundly rejected a massive $32 million bond issue for new construction to our school system. Although the sting of that rejection still lingers, I understand the reluctance of voters here to accept such a grandiose plan.

So fast forward and see where we are today.

I'm not trying to make the case for another bond issue for our schools. That's the job of the school board and administration.

But I will state the obvious.

Lee Hunter and Matthews elementary schools as well as Sikeston Senior High, are showing their age. Sure, we can put lipstick on the proverbial pig, but in the end, it is what it is.

It goes without sayimg that when newcomers or new potential businesses come knocking on our community's door, the school system and the hospital are two important factors in their consideration.

If a comparison is made with Cape Girardeau, Jackson or Poplar Bluff, we may well come up short. In many ways, we cannot control those comparisons.

I'm certain that school officials here are burning the midnight oil in trying to arrive at a plan that will improve our school facilities and will be embraced by voters.

Despite this declining enrollment, we have to ask ourselves if it is fair to house students in facilities that are over 60 years old with the problems that this age understandably brings?

Sikeston schools have long held an admirable reputation in this region and throughout the state. Many of our students achieve at spectacular levels to the great credit of their parents, their teachers and the environment that encourages learning.

But the schools and the citizens of Sikeston need to join in a plan of improvement that will help to assure our reputation continues.

And quite frankly, the time for these decisions cannot be postponed much longer.

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