Columbia principals consult with staffs on cuts

Thursday, January 22, 2009 | 2:42 p.m. CST; updated 9:21 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 22, 2009

COLUMBIA — The principals of Columbia Public Schools met with their staffs Wednesday to discuss changes to the district's budget for the 2009-10 school year, which will be $4.4 million less than projected.

An informational packet provided by the district accounts for $3 million — of which the largest single item is $1.6 million for literacy, math and curriculum coaches — and requests that school faculties meet and propose where to come up with the remaining $1.4 million, which could result in further reductions of personnel.

Brian Gaub, principal at Douglass High School, said administrators at his school met with teachers and others, asking them to provide any thoughts on items to remove from the school's budget.

A similar discussion took place at Rock Bridge High School. Assistant Principal Lisa Nieuwenhuizen said it was good to receive these suggestions early but it does not make the decisions any easier. Last year, she said, similar decisions were made on a shorter timeline.

Interim Superintendent Jim Ritter told school board members in a meeting Thursday morning that principals are communicating the importance of every position but that faculties must look at the problem from a districtwide perspective and decide among themselves what could be cut.

Ritter was responding to a question from board member Karla DeSpain, who recalled the frenzy surrounding last year's  announcement when staff recommended cuts within other departments.

Board president Michelle Gadbois agreed.

“I want to avoid the finger-pointing of last year,” she said.

Ritter said Columbia faces the same financial problems as school districts throughout the state and taxes cannot be raised to meet the shortfalls because any increase would significantly, and negatively, impact the community. He has already said he doesn't intend to ask district voters for an increase in the property tax levy in the April election.

Ritter also said that by opposing tax increases, he hopes to earn back the community's confidence in the district.

However, without any increase in revenue from taxes, the district finds itself in a situation similar to last year.

“We need these cuts to have money to pay bills without borrowing,” Ritter said.

Principals' recommendations regarding the as-yet undetermined source of the $1.4 million in cutbacks are due to the district's central office by Jan. 30.

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