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Columbia schools not expected to feel impact of MOREnet budget cuts

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 | 6:07 p.m. CDT; updated 9:38 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 23, 2010

COLUMBIA — Cuts to Missouri's largest provider of Internet service for schools, universities and libraries are not expected to make a significant impact on Columbia schools or MU.

The Missouri Research and Education Network, or MOREnet, is a unit of MU that provides 14 members in Columbia with Internet service, including MU, Columbia College, Stephens College, Columbia Public Library and Columbia Public Schools.

MOREnet started the 2010 fiscal year with $14 million in state appropriations, but a series of cuts capped off by a recent $300 million reduction to the state’s education budget have dropped MOREnet's funding completely.

"This definitely creates a challenge,” MOREnet Executive Director John Gillispie said.

The recent cut represents one-quarter of MOREnet’s budget. Gillispie said MOREnet has identified $1.5 million in budget cuts to help it cope.

“We’re going to have to slow down spending substantially,” Gillispie said. “So we won’t be replacing equipment or filling resignations.”

The drop from $14 million in state appropriations to zero also means MOREnet will have to increase the fees its members pay. Gillispie said the organization is still working to figure out how much prices would rise; he added that fees for public schools would likely rise by a minimum of 35 percent.

“They could be much higher,” he said.

The revised fees will be announced July 1, Gillispie said.

The district is already working around budget cuts and is paying $23,000 in membership fees, Deputy Superintendent Nick Boren said. A 35 percent increase would mean $8,050 in additional fees.

“We don’t know if the fees will double or just be a couple more thousand dollars,” Boren said.

The district's budget is around $209 million dollars, and Boren hopes the fee increase would not force the school board to make amendments to the fiscal 2010-11 budget, which it passed June 14.

“Really, the only choice we have is to absorb that additional cost,” he said. “It just means we may have to be more conservative."

Other Columbia MOREnet users said they are unsure how the higher fees would affect them until the final numbers are released in July.

Kevin Palmer, chief information officer with Columbia College, said MOREnet's new rate wouldn’t affect student tuition or fees. Palmer said because Columbia College is a private university and has never receive state funding to offset the cost of MOREnet membership fees, the increase would have a limited affect on the school.

But public schools around the state that have previously relied on state funding to cover a portion of their Internet costs will be affected to a greater degree now that that money is gone.

Still, officials from universities in Columbia that use MOREnet say they aren’t too worried.

The University of Missouri System — including its four campuses and health care system — is MOREnet’s largest member. UM spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead  said the school wouldn’t see any impact as a result of the new fees.

Even with the possible 35 percent fee increase, Columbia universities and the public school district plan on staying with MOREnet for their Internet service.

“MOREnet provides a quality resource to the community,” Boren said. “It is an essential service to the school district.”


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