School board asks legislators for support

Thursday, November 20, 2008 | 6:10 p.m. CST; updated 8:42 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 20, 2008

COLUMBIA — School board and district administrators met with local politicians Thursday morning to discuss how they want the elected officials to help the district in the upcoming state legislative session.

District administrators outlined 15 legislative priorities for the district — 11 of which were about receiving more state and federal money.

The district hasn't received less money, but the yearly percentage increase of funding has gotten smaller and smaller each year since 2006 when the funding formula was changed, said Nick Boren, the district’s chief operations officer. The district received a $460,379 increase in state money last year, a mere fraction of the almost $3 million increase it received two years prior.

Board members and administrators were concerned about not receiving full funding for the district as a whole, for special education, and for before- and after-school programs and extracurricular activities.

The legislators attended the meeting to listen to concerns and did not mention specific actions they plan to take. Board members said they understood the challenges the legislators face with requests due to limited funding in all areas, not just education. Mary Still, who will represent the 25th District, raised questions about how to redistribute funds to education.

"If the state is not willing to make the pie larger, we need to discuss re-slicing," Still said.

Chris Kelly, who will replace 24th District Representative Ed Robb in the state house, said not awarding full funding for special education puts the burden on local school districts.

The recent change in social security requirements for teachers was also discussed. Last week, the Social Security Administration announced employees in Columbia and other districts will have to pay into Social Security instead of the Public School Retirement System after July 1, 2009. The change will affect around 500 employees, said Mary Laffey, assistant superintendent for human resources.

There were also concerns about how much money Columbia schools will receive from the passage of Proposition A, which removed the $500 loss limit for casino patrons and promised more money for schools. The state Department of Education estimated that Columbia Public Schools would receive $1.3 million in additional revenue, but the actual amount is unknown.

Stephen Webber, who was elected 23rd District Representative, 19th District State Sen. Kurt Schaefer and 9th District State Representative Paul Quinn also attended the meeting.

The board also discussed the search for the next superintendent, which is scheduled to begin in January. Community members were encouraged to complete an online survey and attend community forums. The responses yielded three main priorities for the next superintendent: a strong background in finances, open communication with administrators, employees and the community and appreciation for the staff.

"It's not going to be a closed desk job," Bob Watkins, of the superintendent search firm for the Missouri School Boards Association, said. "It has to be someone who is out talking with people."

Watkins will meet with three community groups on Friday to further discuss priorities for the new superintendent.

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