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Little progress made on possible South Central consolidation with Burke

BONESTEEL -- Nearly two months after sending a letter to the South Central School Board in regard to a possible consolidation, the Burke School Board has yet to hear back, leaving the schools' fates hanging in the balance.

BONESTEEL - Nearly two months after sending a letter to the South Central School Board in regard to a possible consolidation, the Burke School Board has yet to hear back, leaving the schools' fates hanging in the balance.

On Sept. 13, one day after a regularly scheduled Burke School Board meeting, Burke Superintendent Erik Person, on behalf of the Burke board, sent South Central a lengthy letter outlining his district's expectations for a possible consolidation plan.

Since sending the letter, Person said the Burke board has not heard back from South Central, halting any potential progress on the discussion.

Last week, South Central Superintendent Brad Peters told The Daily Republic the South Central School Board has had ongoing discussion about the issue and had not established a timeline for when the consolidation could occur, but declined further comment.

The South Central School Board's regularly scheduled monthly meeting is scheduled for Monday.

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In August, amid falling enrollment and small class sizes, the South Central School Board met in special session to discuss the possibility of a consolidation with Burke. The schools already have an athletics co-op.

At the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, the district had 105 students enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade, and finished the school year with 99 total students. In late August, the district had approximately 99 students, according to Peters, who added he expected the downward trend to continue.

In his letter, Person began by reviewing a plan the two districts created in 2009-2010, which was eventually scrapped. At the time, Burke was ready to dissolve and attach to the South Central district, according to Person, as Burke was facing many of the same problems South Central is now-plummeting enrollment and small classes.

It was projected at that time the Burke School District had only two years to operate before serious cash flow issues would become "too much to overcome," Person said. A consolidation plan was drafted and approved by Burke, but it was rejected by the South Central School Board.

So, Burke was forced to make "drastic" cuts to its general fund, eliminating more than $400,000 from the budget. In recent years, Burke's enrollment has again ballooned by nearly 40 students, the trimmed funds were able to once again be added to the general fund budget and major improvements have been made to the district facilities.

With all of that information in mind, Person's letter to South Central outlined five major requests:

• The Burke School Board is not willing to dissolve the Burke School District in any way.

• Burke could commit to operating an elementary school in Bonesteel for a minimum of five to seven years.

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• Burke does not see it "practical" to transport Burke students to Bonesteel, as class sizes in Burke are roughly twice as large as South Central's classes.

• Putting the middle school and high school in separate communities is not a viable option.

• Cash reserves of both districts would go into one account in the dissolution process.

"We did not want to send it to you in such a way that it looks like an ultimatum or a list of demands," the letter reads. The letter goes on to say, though, that the South Central School Board should let Burke know if the requests seem manageable, and, if not, "maybe we just agree that the timing is not right now, and we can agree to keep the door open to talking more in the future."

If the South Central board deems Burke's requests manageable, Person said Burke officials feel that it would be "prudent" to seek input from the public in the form of a public meeting.

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