Letter: Vote against the 54-cent property tax for school funding

Sunday, March 23, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:58 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Columbia Public Schools proposed a tax levy, in 2003, which passed by 53 percent. Recommended cuts, proposed in the event the levy did not pass, included eliminating five faculty and staff positions, two home-school communicators, four district-level coordinators and support staff, the half-day kindergarten program and the fourth-grade swimming program.
The administration hired 68 positions last year.
Passage of the proposed tax levy and a reduction in the budget will allow the district to remain solvent for an additional five years.
Executive administration costs make up 1.65 percent of the total per-pupil cost for Columbia Schools. Instruction, pupil support, building administrations, transportation, security services, business services and maintenance account for the remainder. The cuts to administration total approximately $1 million of the first $5 million in reductions that will be made regardless of passage of the levy.
Smart Boards are paid for with bond funds approved last April. By law, these funds cannot be used to pay for operating expenses such as teacher salaries. The district is considering a freeze in salaries.

An open letter to Karla DeSpain and the Columbia School Board:

Here we go again.

A few years ago, we, the property owners, were asked to increase our property taxes — again for the sake of our children. And if we did increase our taxes, which we did, we were promised by the administration that a hundred or more jobs would be eliminated from the school system.

From the outset, I questioned this promise. Or if it would be carried out, it would be for a temporary period of time. And to this day, I doubt that it ever happened. If it has, I am sure we would have heard about it.

Now, because of insecure or poor budget planning, we again are asked to really tax ourselves ­— another 54 cents per $100 ­— on our already extremely high property tax (especially for us seniors).

As I understand it, 77 new teachers were hired. The administration (and I hope the board members) knew that these teachers were not in the budget and that the reserve fund would have to be used. I don’t remember one board member questioning the hiring of these teachers.

The Columbia Daily Tribune indicated that even the teachers questioned the need for the additional teachers. I contacted two school board members and questioned them about the justification for hiring these teachers. Neither one responded to my question.

Now according to Dr. Phyllis Chase, if we, the taxpayers, were to be so generous and help dig her out of this situation by approving the 54-cent tax increase, we would generate $10 million-plus each year from now on. I repeat: $10 million-plus each year (our children and grandchildren will pay this 54-cent tax increase each year). Dr. Chase is willing to cut $4.5 to $5 million from operating expenses. Remember, this is only a promise. And secondly, if it should happen, it is a temporary, one-time deal. But the 54-cent tax increase goes on forever.

A few weeks ago, the Tribune printed an article outlining the salaries of the administration. To me, it was obvious that we are “top heavy” with our administrators. For example, the superintendent has four assistant superintendents and of course, these have clerical help. The school principals have one or more assistant principals, who of course have clerical help, and on and on.

I also read the article in the Tribune “Teachers offer ideas about cuts.” If our board members and assistant superintendents were actively involved with the schools, the teachers, the programs, etc. then they would know what is going on in the schools, and we would not have these financial problems.

I would ask Dr. Chase and the members of the board to sincerely and thoroughly analyze the financial situation of the school district. In my opinion, more money and more taxes are not the answer. Instead, the answers are a better job of budgeting and a better job of using our resources. The teachers had some thought-provoking ideas and suggestions, and I agree with them.

For example, it was suggested to freeze the salary schedule in the coming year if it would save teaching positions and to cut “SmartBoards,” which cost $5 million. Seems as if the district is always wanting to have unnecessary leading-edge, state-of-the-art technology.

The bottom line is I cannot justify voting for the 54-cent property tax increase. And I will suggest to all my friends that they too vote NO on this increase.

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Betty Hamilton March 24, 2008 | 2:01 p.m.

You have made a valid point in this letter. And some that I have not thought of. Maybe someone needs to learn a little more about bugdeting. And a little less spending money on law suits and other things. And about Dr Chase maybe she should give half of her raise back to. Some of the adminstration assiatant and clerical make more than our TEACHERS that are working with our children. And if we vote yes, they will always want more. And as far as Senior people maybe we should give them a brake on the Real state taxes. It should be pass down to the people under the age of 65.


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