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Report: Columbia schools second among comparable districts in federal money

Friday, February 19, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Compared with 12 peer districts, Columbia Public Schools ranks second from the top in how much federal money it gets, according to a new annual report. The reason is that the district has so many students eligible for free and discounted lunch and students in special education.

Linda Quinley, the district's chief financial officer, walked members of the Columbia School Board through the Annual Secretary of the Board Report at a meeting on Thursday. The report is done by each public school district in Missouri; Quinley took the 2008-09 data for comparable districts and put it into a report for the board. The other districts — including seven in the St. Louis area, four in the Kansas City area and one in St. Joseph — are used because of similarities in size, financial capabilities and related factors.

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The $14 million in federal funds becomes clear because of the high number of children from low-income households and in special education, Quinley explained.

Quinley focused on how programs, tools and services are being paid for, how they are used and how the money was spent in the district compared to the others. Board members initially showed surprise at some figures, but Quinley said they could be understood when paired with other numbers.

"The whole picture is important," she said.

Director of Special Services Dana Clippard told the board that since 1994, the number of autistic students has increased from 11 to 144, increasing the need for federal backing.

Quinley's report shows Columbia's summer school program is comparatively expensive. That's because it has full-length days, higher pay for teachers and four more days of class than other districts, she said.

Quinley stressed the importance of seeing the whole picture not only in individual categories but in the overall comparison of districts. "What I see this as is a great opportunity, but it’s hard to get to the real story,” she said of the comparison report.

Also on Thursday, the board announced it is looking for community volunteers to serve on several district committees that advise the board. Each committee is required to have at least 20 percent of its members from the community; the volunteers can not have ties to school governance or staff.

Board member Michelle Pruitt said most committees already meet this requirement and some have upwards of 50 percent community participation. With seven of its eight members coming from the community, the Minority Achievement Committee Scholar Parent Board has the highest.

"Bravo to those committees for great community efforts," Pruitt said.

The volunteer form includes sections for volunteers to express interest in a particular committee, which helps in placing members.

The board decided that all committee members will be allowed a vote on items intended for board consideration. Only advisory or ex-officio positions will not be allowed a vote. Members serve a one-year term or longer depending on the committee.

Superintendent Chris Belcher said that a member of the Board of Education Finance Committee, for example, might need a year "just to learn the language." Pruitt also suggested there be a minimum attendance requirement in order to keep important positions filled.

"Hopefully, it wouldn’t be an issue, but it’s something to consider,” board President Jan Mees said.


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