School board seeks input on proposed cuts

Wednesday, March 19, 2008 | 9:52 p.m. CDT; updated 2:18 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Columbia School Board will meet tonight to talk about proposed ways to cut $5 million out of the district’s annual operating budget.

“We’re really interested in getting lots of feedback,” said Darin Preis, board vice president. “We won’t be voting on anything, but we’ll be clarifying what will be cut.”

The public is invited to comment on the proposed cuts. The board moved its work session from its usual morning time in an attempt to accommodate more citizen input.

At the March 10 board meeting, Superintendent Phyllis Chase presented 108 possible cuts the board could make to save the district money. The cuts were listed as priority one, two or three. If approved, priority one cuts would be made regardless of whether voters approve a 54-cent property tax levy on April 8.

The district has pledged to cut $5 million in part as a gesture of good faith to voters as it asks them to approve the $10.3 million levy increase. The vote on the budget cuts is scheduled to occur at a work session at 7:30 a.m. April 3.

Among the top tier of proposals are cutting more than two dozen full-time positions and reducing the budget for early childhood programs.

Priority two cuts would be made if the public does not approve the levy increase, and priority three would be optional, for the board to consider as substitutions for items on the priority one and two lists.

“For the most part, what’s in priority one should stay there,” Preis said.

There are about five items Preis would like to see transferred from priority one to priority two, he said, but “my opinion might be modified by what I hear (at the meeting.)”

A complete list can be found through the district’s Web site,, under “Hot Topics.”

Board member Jan Mees said she has already heard feedback from community members about a proposed priority one cut that would end insurance coverage for part-time employees. Mees said her goal will be to cut what least affects “students and classrooms.”

Both Preis and Mees expect a large turnout at tonight’s meeting.

“I would hope that (the public) would come out and have some questions answered,” Mees said. “I would assume we’ll have a packed house.”

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