COLUMBIA — Columbia’s School Board candidates took on the big issues of achievement gaps between races in schools and the proposed tax levy during Tuesday night’s NAACP candidate forum.
The tax levy — which will be put to Columbia voters on April 8 — would increase property taxes by 54 cents per $100 of the assessed value of each Columbia resident’s home in order to help pay for maintenance costs, such as utilities and transportation, at Columbia public schools.
According to Phyllis Chase, superintendant of Columbia Public Schools, these maintenance needs are no longer being met because of changes in state funding and increasing costs.
During the event, held at the Second Baptist Church and sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, candidates were asked what they would propose to do if the tax levy didn’t pass.
Candidate Ines Segert said she felt re-evaluating existing programs would be the most effective solution for the district’s budget woes. By cutting unnecessary programs, she felt, the costs could be covered.
“It’s a combination of cost-cutting and going back and evaluating programs: necessary programs and unnecessary programs,” Segert said.
Gale Hairston said, if the tax levy didn’t pass, he felt that the community would be there to support the schools, but that program evaluations would still likely be necessary for the schools to operate in the long run.
But, Hairston added, “You have to have money to have schools operate.” He said he hopes Columbia voters pass the levy.
Darin Preis said that if the tax levy did not pass, changes would have to be made, such as increased class sizes and workloads for teachers, but he added that he felt the tax levy must be passed.
“I implore you to consider the assets of the tax levy,” he said.
Rosie Tippin also responded that she thinks the levy is the best solution, saying that she thought the option of increasing class sizes too much would hurt the effectiveness of the classrooms.
“The first priority is whether it passes or not,” Tippin said.
Candidates said another major problem in Columbia schools was an “achievement gap” among races. Many candidates disagreed on how to address the gap.
Tippin said she felt that one of the keys may lie in educating parents.
“We have many parents who don’t know how to make their children succeed,” she said.
Preis cited a lack of diversity in teaching as one of the problems that may be leading to the achievement gap. He also stressed a need to bring programs such as ACT preparatory classes and mentoring programs to black students.
Hairston said he felt that not enough money was invested toward helping children who are behind the learning curve.
“You have to invest differently in those children,” he said.
Segert said that schools needed to reach out, especially to students who are not seeking extra help. She said that looking at other schools’ success stories could provide strategies for bridging the achievement gap here.