Tax levy increase a possibility for Columbia Public Schools

Thursday, January 13, 2011 | 6:30 p.m. CST; updated 9:20 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 13, 2011

COLUMBIA — The Columbia School Board will likely bring the issue of tax money into its discussion if state funds continue to decrease.

The district is looking at a $5.5 million to $6 million reduction in state funding. The board is looking at possible ways to accommodate the budget shortfall by reducing staff positions, insurance and benefits.

The district is facing up to an 18 percent reduction in state funding, which accounts for 33 percent of the Columbia Public School’s budget, said Chris Belcher, the district's superintendent.

Belcher said there are two possible ways that the district can generate revenue to make up for the shortfall — increased student attendance and a possible tax levy increase.

“At some point, because of all of these issues, we have to determine, when do we talk to the community about what they value in education and what’s it worth,” Belcher said to the Board of Education on Wednesday.

The district is now waiting to see how the state budget will turn out in May. If the state sees revenue reduction, Belcher said he views the tax levy increase issue simply as a discussion for the board next fall.  

“It might become more part of the board's conversation next fall. Now whether it makes its way to the ballot by next April would surprise me but also not surprise me," said Linda Quinley, chief financial officer for Columbia Public Schools. 

Quinley said as soon as the district knows the state budget for sure, it can impact the district's ability to change for the future.

“We need some money to replace what the state has taken away because at some point, we as a board have to determine if this is taking away from programs that are detrimental, that we just can’t stomach anymore,” Belcher said.

Belcher said, including the 2011-12 school year, the district will have reduced the budget by $20 million and cut 265 positions in the past four years. 

Although the district is in jeopardy of losing state revenue, Belcher said he feels that it was well prepared for the potential cut.

“In the past two years, we have been aggressive in reduction of our expenditures knowing that this day would arrive,” Belcher said. 

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