School Board discusses budget deficit solutions

Monday, December 8, 2008 | 10:18 p.m. CST; updated 9:49 a.m. CST, Wednesday, December 10, 2008

COLUMBIA— District finances took center stage at the Columbia Public School Board meeting Monday night, where all 25 seats in the administration building were filled.

Superintendent Jim Ritter headed the conversation on the district finances.

"We are faced with a shortfall of $3.2 million," he said, referring to a projected deficit for the fiscal year. The district's current budgeting deficit totals $2,597,191.

During the financial update at the meeting, business services director Linda Quinley said last year's elimination of about 80 positions in the schools saved nearly $200,000 more than initially projected.

Ritter presented the 2009-10 budget parameters, which include topics such as student-teacher ratio, employee benefit funding and personnel reductions and maintaining a minimum operating reserve of at least 16 percent. Ritter said the parameters are recommendations and can be edited by the board.

Four scenarios were presented to deal with the deficit, each amounting to two fiscal years. The scenarios assume state funding will remain at the same levels, which Ritter said is something the board is still examining.

Two of the four scenarios included tax levy increases. The third scenario presented included a 45-cent tax levy increase, an operating salary schedule, allowing an education credit for two years, eliminating the deficit and maintaining the 16-percent operating balance. There would be no staff cuts in this scenario. A 45-cent tax levy increase would add about $127.92 per year onto property taxes of a home valued at $150,000.

The fourth scenario included some of the same provisions as the third, but instead had a 41-cent tax levy increase and also had a million dollar budget cut for the district (which could come from any area, including projects or personnel).

Board president Michelle Gadbois would like to see budget cuts that would have as little affect on classrooms as possible.

Ritter agreed and said the board is open to scenarios other than the four listed at the meeting. Those scenarios will have to be proposed within the next few weeks, Ritter said, because the board needs to make a decision before late January.

"We're fully aware of the economic downturn and also realize we have a responsibility to the community to maintain high quality schools," Ritter said. "There's no greater investment than our children and young people."

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Lynita Little suggested that the support staff contracts be reduced by two days with pay. Little recommended the staff, such as custodial staff and secretaries, be given off Jan. 1 and 2 to save energy in the buildings; she also suggested that having support staff at work on those days is a security risk.

Gadbois said the issue deserved more consideration: "We have spent some time on this and will continue to."

Gadbois went on to announce that what is now the audit committee will expand to become a comprehensive finance committee and introduced board member Steve Calloway to speak more on the topic. Calloway said the audit committee needed to be expanded in order to better work with the district's finances.

Assistant Superintendent Lynn Barnett addressed the upcoming Board of Education filing process. Filing for the board, which takes place at the administration building at 1818 W. Worley St., will begin at 8 a.m. Dec. 16 and will continue until 5 p.m. Jan. 20. Qualifications for the board require someone to be a U.S. citizen, a voter of the Columbia Public School district, a Missouri resident for at least a year and at least 24 years old.

The name for the new elementary school was passed: Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary, after the first and only woman to hold the position of Boone County superintendent of schools.

Board member Karla Despain was not in attendance because of a family issue.

An independent auditor also presented his report for the fiscal year ending in June 2008. To read more and continue the conversation, go to the SchoolHouse Talk blog.

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Ayn Rand December 9, 2008 | 7:28 a.m.

Taxpayers are tied of a district that spends millions on Smart Boards and then cries poverty. It also doesn't help when some parents don't send their kids to school ready to learn.

(Report Comment)
Troy Kite December 9, 2008 | 8:42 a.m.

I agree that money is not well spent. Perhaps if we didn't have 19 elementary schools in the district we could stay within a budget.

Elementary: 19
Middle: 3
Junior: 3 (4 if you count Douglass)
High: 2 (3 counting Douglass, 4 once new school opens)

It is clear that we have a very unbalanced system in place. I know that some elementary schools have extremely low enrollment compared to capacity level. For instance Cedar Ridge only has 178 enrolled compared to Fairview's 544. On the other hand take Mill Creek, Derby Ridge and Paxton Keely which all have 700+ enrolled. I say some consolidation of elementary schools is the only real solution to budget problems for the district. As the new schools come online employment and salaries for the district are only going to increase. You have to face up to the fact that concessions need to be made and it is clear the area that needs this is the elementary level.

I don't think voters are going to approve any tax increases for the district so I strongly suggest they not rely on that option.....

(Report Comment)
Jake Sherlock December 9, 2008 | 1:33 p.m.


I'd love to have you produce something for our change series that's coming up at the first of the year. What would you change about Columbia Public Schools, besides the suggestions you made above?

Here's a link to my column about the change series:

And if it's not just Columbia Schools you'd change, tell us what else you'd change as well. We'd love to hear from you.

And for the other Columbia readers: I'd love to have your thoughts too. If you think something needs to change, please, share it with all of us!

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand December 9, 2008 | 1:48 p.m.

Another area to cut is sports. That should be funded entirely by parents, alumni, local businesses and whoever/whatever else wants to chip in. It's really not that important in the greater scheme of things. For example, if you need a scholarship to pay for college, focus on academic achievement, which is going to be a bigger factor in your collegiate success than whether you're good on the vault on or on the court.

(Report Comment)

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