GUEST COMMENTARY: Ten facts about the proposed bond issue for Columbia Public Schools

Friday, March 5, 2010 | 11:27 a.m. CST; updated 10:43 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 4, 2010

On April 6, voters in Columbia will have the opportunity to vote on a no-tax-rate-increase bond issue proposal.

The community’s support of this bond issue will impact every child in our school district now and in the future.

Top 10 facts about the bond issue:

10. More than half of Columbia Public Schools buildings are 40 years old or older and need repair.  Ten million dollars will be used for building improvements, both external and internal, including roofing, window replacement, tuckpointing, flooring and electrical and plumbing renovations.

9. Parents, students and community members were surveyed and indicated their desire to have ninth graders at the high school buildings, which would mean fewer transitions between schools. Seventy-five million dollars will be used for construction of a new high school to accommodate 1,800 students and to reduce the number of transitions. Our grade configuration will change from K-5, 6-7, 8-9 and 10-12 to K-5, 6-8 and 9-12.

8. Ninth-grade students must take a required physical education class. The Hickman High School gym is not regulation size, and $7.5 million will be used for an additional physical education space at Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools.

7. Student enrollment has increased by more than 750 over the last five years, and another 1,000 students are projected to enroll over the next five years.  A new elementary school will be built in addition to the new high school.

6. Technology in our schools is in need of upgrades. Parts of the district’s network infrastructure are more than 20 years old. Our students must be prepared to utilize technology in their future careers and life paths, and $7.5 million will be spent on technology upgrades and improvements.

5. Seven of our buildings are not air conditioned, and $14.8 million will be used for air conditioning and to replace boilers.

4. By law, the bond issue cannot be used to pay salaries. Bond funds can be used only for new construction, renovation of existing facilities and the purchase of furniture and equipment.

3. Twenty-three percent of students are educated in trailers. There are 164 trailers in Columbia Public Schools. With the passage of this bond issue, more than 40 trailers will be eliminated.

2. The economic impact of the $120 million bond issue on our community is more than $258 million.

1. The bond issue will not increase the tax rate.

The need for these improvements for our students and staff are based on goals set by the Columbia School Board after extensive evaluation of our current facilities and ongoing community engagement:

  • Reduce overcrowding in schools, including reducing the number of trailers.
  • Improve the physical and learning environments in all schools and facilities.
  • Reduce the number of student grade level transitions to K-5, 6-8 and 9-12, including moving ninth graders to the high school buildings.
  • Increase the functional life and operational efficiency of our current buildings.

The time is right for the district to proceed on this plan. Jobs will be created during the construction of the new facilities. The opportunity to obtain very competitive construction bids is likely. The bonding capacity set by the state is within the school district’s capacity, with no need to increase the current tax rate. The five-year budget plan in development now includes savings to pay for the operational expenses associated with the new high school and elementary school.

The total cost for the project, including construction, technology, air conditioning, building improvements, interest and fees is $138 million.  The voters approved a $60 million bond issue in 2007. That bond issue provided the funds to construct our new elementary school, Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary, which opened in January. It also enabled the installation of air conditioning in five elementary schools and provided for new technology for classrooms. There is $18 million remaining from the 2007 bond, which will be used for construction of the new high school.

The bond issue will affect all 17,419 students currently enrolled in Columbia Public Schools and will set the stage for future growth.

Please vote on April 6.

Jan Mees is the president of the Columbia School Board.

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Jimmy Bearfield March 8, 2010 | 7:54 a.m.

"The bond issue will not increase the tax rate. The bonding capacity set by the state is within the school district’s capacity, with no need to increase the current tax rate."
"Depending on how much money the district is receiving from other sources, [Belcher] said, 2014 or 2015 could be time to ask the voters for a tax increase to pay for buildings in the $120 million bond issue."

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