COLUMBIA — After several years of budget cuts, including more than $4 million last year, IBM's arrival in Columbia could be a major boon for Columbia Public Schools.
At a news conference May 17 to announce IBM's new facility, Mayor Bob McDavid said the company could bring $4.3 million in additional tax revenue for the district. Superintendent Chris Belcher said the district would receive the money over 10 years, which would mean about $400,000 of additional income each year.
Belcher said the new facility could result in the purchase of about 300 homes in and around the city. About 65 percent of the school district's operational revenue draws from local property taxes, so an increased demand for homes could only help the school district.
"We've obviously been hurting due to lower sales taxes and lower property tax revenues," Columbia School Board President Jan Mees said. "It will definitely help our coffers."
Mees said the projected windfall could help recoup the significant losses in revenue suffered in the past couple of years. The board has been trying to manage money shortfalls to cover the district's "most pressing needs," she said, but it's "like hitting a moving target."
In a Thursday morning work session, the board decided it would vote on a budget that would eliminate 79 employee positions at its next meeting. IBM's presence in the city, though, could lessen the cuts for a while.
"It's a very tight budget, and we're trying to be as efficient as possible," said Jonathan Sessions, the newest member of the board. "We may now have opportunities that we may not have had before."
But the money is not expected to solve all the district's woes. Belcher said the money would go toward hiring teachers because new homes usually mean new students. He doesn't anticipate trouble with the increase in enrollment, though.
"We're at 17,000 students now; a growth of 300 more will be dealt with," Belcher said.
Mees said the district is used to accommodate a changing population. A new high school and elementary school are currently under construction. They were paid for by two bonds, the latest of which Belcher thinks enticed IBM to move to Columbia.
Belcher was acting as the spokesman for the district at a reception for IBM and city officials involved in the deal on the night of the municipal election in April. It was there he learned the $120 million bond passed by 77 percent of Columbia voters.
"I think it's a good thing the bond issue passed with such a high majority because it showed IBM we're a progressive community," Belcher said.
Belcher said he attended three or four of those receptions as the representative for the district. Some see the decision of IBM as a stamp of approval for the district.
"It definitely has a connection to the quality of our public schools," said Michelle Baumstark, spokeswoman for the district.
Mees also sees future gains for the district because of the move. She said it might attract other companies to Columbia as well.
"This may be the start of something big for the community," Mees said.