Columbia School Board approves budget guidelines, 4-3

Monday, February 14, 2011 | 10:45 p.m. CST; updated 8:05 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 15, 2011

*CORRECTION: Salaries for district school teachers were frozen for two school years, starting in 2008-2009. Operation resumed in 2010-2011. An earlier version of the story misreported this information.

COLUMBIA — The Columbia School Board voted on the 2011-12 budget guidelines at its Monday night meeting.

What happened: The board voted to approve the guidelines, with four members in favor and three opposed. Board members Ines Segert, Michelle Pruitt and James Whitt were the dissenting votes.

After Superintendent Chris Belcher introduced the eight guidelines, Chief Financial Officer Linda Quinley gave approximate costs for each of the items presented:

  • Add another year to the length of time the district pays increasing amounts to teachers to cover retirement. At that point, contributions remain constant. The cost is expected to be $80,000 for increases for all salary schedules across the district.
  • Allow teachers to move up one step on the pay scale. *The pay scale for teachers was frozen in the 2008-2009 school year, along with 2009-2010. In the 2010-2011 school year, operation began again. For all teachers to move up one step, it could cost the district close to $1.3 million.
  • Raise salaries relative to a teacher's educational advancement. Educational advancement encompasses a range, but is estimated to be about $600,000.
  • Continue to fully fund the employee benefits program for those eligible. The benefits program could cost anywhere from $650,000 to $800,000.
  • Continue to fund the district’s 40 percent portion of supplemental pay for teachers in the Career Ladder program. The state withdrew its 60 percent contribution this fiscal year, making the district the sole supporter of the program. The district's portion of funding would be a $1.9 million expense.
  • Use local funding to continue Title I preschool and Reading Recovery programs, formerly covered by federal stimulus money. The preschool program would cost around $1.17 million, and the remaining $330,000 would cover the reading programs.
  • Spend some of the district’s reserves, which have built up during the last four years. The district expects spending about $4 million in reserves next year.
  • Maintain reserve balances at, or slightly above, 20 percent at year's end.

Comments: Segert raised questions about continuing to fund the Title I preschools and Reading Recovery programs, which have yet to be evaluated for effectiveness by the district.

"It’s not enough to just allocate money, Segert said. "We have to allocate money to a program that works and does what we need it to do."

Similarly, board members Whitt and Jan Mees expressed uncertainty about the binding nature of the night's vote.

"Are these the laws that we will always abide by this year?" Mees asked.

Belcher insisted the budget will "be a weekly discussion from this point on." None of the guidelines are contractual, he added, but they are an agreement from the board on what issues it will prioritize. The parameters may be modified if major changes are made with state funding or something similar.

What's next: Although the board approved these guidelines for the first drafts of the 2011-12 budget, nothing is set in stone. Once the work and review process begins, the board will focus on the parameters regarding salary schedules first, as teacher contracts go out in May. The rest of the budget will be approved in late June.

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