COLUMBIA — Two literacy coach positions were spared this first round of cuts by the Columbia School Board on Thursday. The board cut $5.23 million from its annual operating budget during the special session.
After discussion by the board, which included a request by Vice President Darin Preis to save the literacy coach positions, the vote passed unanimously. Although there was the opportunity, no public comment preceded the vote.
A complete list of budget cuts are available on the Columbia Public School Web site. All Priority I recommendations will be cut with one change; instead of cutting four literacy coaches, now two will be cut. The other two positions were moved to a secondary list for future consideration (Click here to see the administration’s recommendations for additional savings to be moved from Priority III to Priority II).
The district has lumped cut recommendations into three categories. District administrators say that about $5 million more in cuts will have to be made from priorities II and III if a proposed 54-cent property tax levy increase does not pass on Tuesday.
The school district currently employs 30 literacy coaches and 14 math coaches, some of whom might included in later cuts. After deciding to cut the two literacy coaches, the board discussed how to effectively use the district’s remaining coaches.
“We would look at the data, at how students are doing in math and English at each school, and dole out coaches accordingly,” said Superintendent Phyllis Chase.
Board President Karla DeSpain and board members Preis, Jan Mees and Michelle Gadbois all apologized for not being able to respond to the large amount of public feedback and invitations to visit school classrooms. Mees said she received more than 200 e-mails and was not able to reply to all of them.
Citing public discussion of administrator salaries, board member Tom Rose, at his first meeting since a heart attack last month, asked how much of the $5 million in cuts would come out of administrator budgets and salaries.
“We tried to keep the cuts as far away from the classrooms as possible,” DeSpain answered as administrators sifted through papers. The administration will cut $1.079 million from its salaries and budgets, Chase said.
The discussion took an hour before the vote passed. All board members were present.
The board’s attention then moved to Priority II and III cuts, though there was no vote.
The most discussed topic in the Priority II cuts was the proposal to stop providing free bus service to 170 Ridgeway Elementary students. In addition to the regular cost of bus service, the district pays $1,470 per student for bus service to Ridgeway. This cut would save the district $250,000.
Michael Harmata, who teaches chemistry at MU, argued that cutting bus service to Ridgeway “would change the demographic significantly.” He said that students with parents who could not afford to drive them to the school would not be able to attend the magnet school without buses.
Stacia Schaefer, a parent of students at Ridgeway, also said the area around the school was already congested and the additional traffic would cause problems for parents and neighbors.
The board changed item 73, the bus issue, from “eliminate free busing to magnet school (Ridgeway Elementary School)” to “eliminate free busing as it is presently configured by exploring options and maintaining as many programs as possible.”
The busing issue brought about 10 teachers and staff from Ridgeway Elementary dressed in blue school shirts waiting to discuss the subject, but they didn’t get the chance to speak. They had to leave the meeting early to get to their classes.
As the teachers rose to leave, board members apologized for running long.
“Just remember us,” Jo Steitz, a former Ridgeway teacher, said as she left the room.
Missourian reporters Tanner Flowers, Audrey Spalding, Erin Ash and Kate Genellie contributed to this report.