LETTERS: Burns resident spells out town’s grievances against USD 398 board

I am concerned about USD 398, Peabody-Burns. There has been lots of talk regarding the closing of the Burns grade school, but very little information circulated. I have heard from several people in Peabody, and have yet to hear any facts-just a lot of rumor. I would like to share some facts with you.

I have been asked why Burns needs a grade school. Burns needs a grade school for the same reasons as Peabody: for the good of the children and the community.

Our youngest children get their start in their own town without the long bus ride to distract them and with parents close by if needed. As they get older, they are bused to the bigger schools in Peabody to continue their education. This gives them a chance to get to know more children in the community and become more well-rounded as they venture to new experiences at Peabody.

For those who don’t know, the 2000 census lists Burns as the fastest growing city in Marion County. Burns borders Butler County, the fastest growing county in the state. Burns is growing daily with new businesses, houses and families. Each family that moves here potentially will have children who will attend school in our communities. We should be encouraging that growth for the good of both communities.

The most common, and probably the most important, question I have been asked is why Burns wants to spend “so much” on a new school.

Burns is looking to spend about $100,000 for a new building to house kindergarten through fourth grade. Burns had an enrollment of 20 kids when its school was closed, with the promise of additional students at semester break.

This may not seem like many kids, but do the math for the district: 20 students at $6,300 per student (what the state pays for the education of each student to the district) is $126,000.

This is a considerable amount of money the Burns students-from just the grade school-are contributing to USD 398.

The new school at Burns would cost about $80,000 each year to run. That includes teachers, support, utilities, supplies, etc. The 20 students are generating $126,000-that’s a net gain of $46,000 to the district to be used in any way the school board chooses.

That amount of money could buy a new greenhouse or school bus for the high school, renovate classrooms, or provide many other wonderful things for our children.

The money for a new school is already in the fund, so the district would not be going in the hole by building the school.

Now we get to the problem. When the decision was made to close the Burns school, several parents were unhappy with the decision. Several board members campaigned in Burns, promising they would always support a school in Burns and the Burns community.

A majority of the community of Burns feels betrayed and angry. It has caused some parents to take their children out of the district and send them to other schools. The students that were going to start at semester are no longer coming.

As the issue got hotter, and more things were said, more parents have taken their children out. When some of the students from Burns started telling their parents they didn’t feel welcome at Peabody, more of the students went elsewhere.

This is not only at the grade school, but the upper grades have been affected as well. Twenty students from the Burns area have left USD 398 already. That would add up to $126,000 per year already lost for the budget.

The enrollment from Peabody to the district will be down by 20 next year. That’s another $126,000. Can we really afford this?

The school board has been very callous in their dealing with this matter. Some members have gone so far as to say that Burns could “just go away” and “Who needs Burns?”

When the people of Burns have attempted to get on the school board agenda, they have been relegated to the Public Forum, where discussion does not happen, questions are not answered and the public is, at best, tolerated.

Is this any way for a consolidated school board to act toward the people who elected them? Is this any attitude for any elected officials in places of authority to act? Are they truly thinking in the best interest of the entire district?

I wonder, since the next budget is already going to be down $252,000 -a loss of more than a quarter of a million dollars!

The official reason for closing the Burns school was financial. I’m afraid I don’t understand. The students in Burns generate enough money to pay for their own school, plus add to the general fund of the district. So it doesn’t cost anymore to run the school.

If all of the Burns students had been made to feel welcome at the school, and the issue treated as it should have been, and no students left, then USD 398 would be saving money. But, since 20 students have been run off already, the district is already in the hole, and several more parents have said they will not be back next year if this issue isn’t looked at again, fairly.

Can we really afford to lose any more students from our district?

The building at Burns was condemned because of years of neglect by the district. This is noted on the inspector’s report. Is this a responsible way to treat an asset of the district?

Because the building was condemned and is being torn down, it was not possible for the board to even sell the building to a private investor. For a school building that is in use to be neglected to that point is inexcusable! It’s everyone’s tax money wasted, not just one community.

A lot of people from Burns have been good patrons of the Peabody community. If the children are going to other communities for school, so will the money spent by the families at the Peabody businesses.

I ask the members of the Peabody business community: Can you afford a 25-percent reduction in sales? If Burns is so unimportant that they can just “go away,” and 25 percent of the enrollment at Peabody does go away, so will the sales from the parents and children who used to go there.

I don’t believe all of the people of Peabody feel about Burns the way the school board members do. I have always felt welcomed by the people of Peabody, but I have never felt welcome at a school board meeting. Why? I am from Burns.

The citizens of Burns have repeatedly brought this information before the school board-the board has ignored it. A huge altercation was started at the last meeting because a Burns board member asked that the issue be revisited-for the good of the district and for the unification of our district.

This suggestion was vehemently opposed, and the things said at this public meeting to the Burns members of the board were unprofessional and petty.

To the people who said these remarks, I can only say I am disgusted and ashamed to have you representing me. Any issue that the public is this divided about should be worked out, not ignored and belittled.

It is possible the board has made a mistake. The board has suddenly agreed to revisit this issue March 6. I urge everyone in both Burns and Peabody to call, write and talk to your board members. I urge everyone to attend this meeting.

This issue is of great importance to all of us. It will be a long ride to Marion or Newton if both our schools end up closing because of stubbornness and discontent. United we grow, divided we fall. Help unite our school district for the good of both our communities and all our children.

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