COLUMBIA — At a meeting to discuss solutions for projected budget deficits of Columbia Public Schools, Board of Education President Tom Rose said the district is at a crossroads that will impact the lives of students and faculty and the future of the community.
Roughly 95 members of the community gathered at Stoney Creek Inn as part of the school district’s ongoing World Cafe series Wednesday night to discuss the current financial situation. In May, superintendent Chris Belcher projected a deficit of more than $14 million in five years because of rising enrollment and a decline in state and federal aid.
Under the current budget, the district can cover expenses for the 2011-12 school year, but for every year after, the deficit will continue to increase. If nothing is done, total expenditures will exceed total revenue in the next three years.
Possible solutions discussed at the World Cafe, a series created in 2009 for the community to discuss school issues, included various combinations of levy increases and bond proposals to be voted on in the spring.
Many at the meeting voiced concern about gaining the support of the 80 percent of households in Columbia that don’t have children. A bond proposal must pass by two-thirds of the vote. A tax levy must pass by 50 percent and one vote.
Attendees were broken down into small groups to discuss four possible scenarios that address the issue. A current or former board member served as a facilitator for the groups.
District spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said the board would take the feedback expressed at the World Cafe meeting into account when they decide what option to pursue.
Scenario 1: There would be no levy increase to voters and a bond proposal in 2013.
One of the biggest disadvantages of this scenario is that without a levy increase no funding goes toward teachers' salaries, community member Michael Dunne said. He said the quality of teachers, not the facilities, makes a difference for students.
Scenario 2: There would be a 60-cent levy increase to voters in 2012 and a bond proposal in 2013.
“A pro is that there hasn’t been a levy increase in nine years,” community member Randy Morrow said. But he pointed out that redistricting in the spring could affect a vote.
Scenario 3: There would be a 40-cent increase to voters in 2012 and a 20-cent debt service increase bond proposal in 2012.
Community member Tanya Haeussler said an advantage of this scenario is that introducing both changes together might fuel momentum for this option. “It’s better to have them both at the same time.” she said. “To have one campaign. One clear message.”
Allen Jennings, who attended the meeting, agreed.
“It’s easier to sell a package,” he said. “It’s like the cable company. You got to bundle, sell and communicate.”
Scenario 4: There would be a 20-cent bond proposal in 2012 and a levy increase to voters in 2013.
An advantage of this scenario, as with scenario 2, is that the two decisions are split up between years, former City Councilwoman Laura Nauser said.
“With the tradition of our economy, it would be difficult to ask for it all in 2012,” she said.
Teresa VanDover, however, said she thought it was better to have the two votes together.
“I don’t think we can go to voters twice in two years,” she said.