Columbia School Board elects officers, authorizes bond sales

Monday, April 11, 2011 | 10:18 p.m. CDT; updated 12:43 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 12, 2011

COLUMBIA — The new Columbia School Board authorized the sale of $43 million in general obligation bonds for new district projects and approved the extension of Superintendent Chris Belcher's contract Monday.

What happened: Helen Wade and incumbents Jonathan Sessions and Tom Rose were sworn in at the beginning of the meeting. Rose, former vice president of the board, was elected president, replacing current board member Jan Mees. Christine King was elected vice president. Board members approved Rose and King unanimously.

Jack Dillingham, bond counsel for the district and managing director with the firm Piper Jaffray, explained the urgency to authorize the bond sale. Dillingham said the high quality of the district's bonds and the low number of other bonds up for sale are appealing to investors who don't want to buy risky bonds.

Dillingham also said the district should sell soon to take advantage of low interest rates, which means a lower cost for the district overall.

"We can get a good price, the lowest interest rate as possible," Dillingham said. "Getting into the market in the next 30 days would be advisable."

The bonds will be sold in $5,000 increments. This sale is the first of the $120 million bond sale approved by voters in April 2010.

The board also approved a one-year extension of Belcher's contract, which includes a salary increase for 2011-12 from $185,232 to $188,492 as well as a mileage reimbursement increase from $7,200 to $7,500.

Belcher did not receive a raise for 2010-11. Board member Jan Mees explained that the salary increase is based on the average increase for teachers in the district on a pay scale that increases by years of experience. Chief Financial Officer Linda Quinley said the superintendent's travel budget has not increased for the last seven years. The contract also includes a $400 reimbursement for dues for participation in local civic organizations.

The board also approved seven budget amendments for 2010-11, which Quinley called "housekeeping amendments."

Comments: Columbia residents at the board meeting brought forward concerns about the future class sizes of Fairview Elementary School. Fairview PTA President Sheila Chapman said Fairview might see the elimination of one teacher, which would cause class sizes in that grade level to increase.

"We think that having a class size that approaches 30 is just too large," said Chris Teddy, mother of two students at Fairview. "It's too much of a burden on our kids and too much of a burden on our teachers."

Later in the meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Peter Stiepleman addressed the parents' concerns. He said that while reducing class sizes is one of his priorities for the district, "it has everything to do with the teacher more than the class size.

"Our job is to retain higher-quality teachers, recruit and retain them," Stiepleman said. "I could have a class of 15, but if I have a poorly prepared teacher, those kids don't stand a chance."

In spite of the possible reduction at Fairview, Belcher said three elementary teachers and two secondary teachers could be added next year.

What's next: The board meets at 6:30 p.m., Monday, May 9, at the district's administration building, 1818 W. Worley St.

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