Columbia public schools to cut more jobs to tackle budget deficit

Monday, January 12, 2009 | 9:31 p.m. CST; updated 1:51 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 15, 2009

This article has been updated to correct Maurice Guerin's title; he is treasurer of the Columbia Public Schools Employee Organization and co-chairman of the group's Salary Committee. Also, in a survey done by the organization, about 42 percent of teachers who responded said they would highly consider leaving the district if salaries were still frozen.

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Public School District will see more cuts in personnel this year.

At the Columbia Board of Education's first meeting of the year on Monday evening, Jim Ritter, interim superintendent of the Columbia Public Schools, did not recommend any property tax levy increase. He took into consideration both the economic downturn in the country and the fact that many people are not in a position to pay more taxes, he said.

The school district, which is facing a projected budget deficit of $3.2 million for fiscal year 2009, was mulling a tax levy increase. Because 83 percent of the budget is spent on personnel, there will likely be cuts in personnel, Ritter said.

"But the cuts will be as far from the classroom as we can (get)," Ritter said.

There could be as many as 60 cuts in personnel this year, Ritter said. Last year, 81 jobs were lost because the tax levy increase proposal was not passed in the April 2008 ballot.

But any cuts in supporting staff, even in the food section, will have an impact on the teachers, Ritter said. And that will also have an impact on the goals of the Board of Education, he said.

Most of the board members supported the step, except Michelle Gadbois, president of the Board of Education. Though she didn't support it, Gadbois did accept the motion as necessary given the economic condition of the country and state.

"It is disappointing to me that we are not in a different position," she said.

The current tax levy for the school district is $4.73, which brings in $89.5 million to the Columbia public schools.

The Missourian had earlier reported that four scenarios were presented to the school board to deal with the deficit, and two of the four scenarios included tax levy increases.

One of the scenarios 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 have been no staff cuts in this scenario. A 45-cent tax levy increase would have added about $127.92 per year onto property taxes of a home valued at $150,000.

Another scenario included some of the same provisions as the latter, but substituted a 41-cent tax levy increase and also had a million dollar budget cut for the district.

At the Monday meeting, Maurice Guerin, treasurer of the Columbia Public Schools Employees Organization, had said that if salaries were still frozen, 42 percent of teachers surveyed said they would highly consider leaving the district. He was referring to a survey done by the organization the drew about 400 respondents.

"We cannot afford to lose good teachers," said Guerin, who is co-chairman of the group's Salary Committee. The employees' organization would have backed any tax levy increase.

The board is not finished discussing the problem of the deficit; it will meet again to discuss ways to tackle the budget deficit and yet maintain the present quality of education.

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