COLUMBIA — No program or plan was implemented. No policy or amendment was accepted or rejected. Nothing was even voted on at the Columbia School Board’s special session meeting Tuesday night; however, the district’s immediate and long-range future might have been decided on.
In what seemed like a consensus, board members voiced the need to place a bond issue in front of Columbia residents by April 2012. The plan discussed at the meeting would include asking voters to approve a $50 million bond issue and a 52-cent tax rate increase.
District Superintendent Chris Belcher said during the meeting that Columbia residents must understand the position the district is in right now. If no new revenue is added by the 2012-13 school year, the district will begin deficit spending, Deputy Superintendent Nick Boren said.
Belcher and other school members discussed the facets of keeping Columbia a quality school district. They highlighted ridding the district of its more than 160 mobile classrooms and decreasing class sizes by building new schools and adding on to existing ones. They also mentioned developing technology and repairing district facilities.
“We’re not going to be adding much with this money," Belcher said. "We're not trying to solve our problems with money. We already cut $20 million. We just want seven of it back. We’re just trying to maintain the high quality we have right now.”
Board members supported Belcher's sentiments and said the district's financial predicament is dire.
“We can’t pretend things will continue the way they are now if nothing changes,” board member Helen Wade said. “They won’t. They’ll get worse. The bond issue absolutely needs to be on the (April 2012) ballot."
Board member Jan Mees said: "This is really a matter of black and red. We can't be operating in the red. We need money. The issue needs to be on the ballot."
Board member Christine King emphasized that, along with appealing to parents of students, the district must also appeal to the 80 percent of Columbia residents who do not have children in the school district. She said people need to know a growing Columbia is good for the economy and that a reason for this growth is a quality school district.
School Board President Tom Rose said, "It will be an investment that is right for the community and right for children, and that is something we will see a great return on."
Belcher said the district could function the same way next year as it has this year without an approved bond issue and tax increase, but after that, he said, there are no guarantees.
"We don't want to try and put this in front of the voters and say, 'If you don't do this then this happens,' " Belcher said. "But the voters need to know the situation we're in."
The proposed April 2012 bond issue is just the first step in the Long-Range Facilities Planning Committee's 10-year plan. During the next 10 years, the committee's plan calls for about $220 million in four voter-approved bonds, beginning with $50 million in 2012, according to a previous Missourian article.
The board will continue to discuss that and other options until Jan. 24, when all potential ballot issues must be submitted to the city clerk’s office.
The school board was also presented with information about the feedback the Secondary Enrollment Planning Committee received regarding the redrawing of the district's school boundaries.
Don Ludwig, chairman of the committee, reported to the board that it received more than 1,000 comments, some of which led to the elimination of intermediate scenario A from consideration. Ludwig said comments about that scenario were about 5-to-1 against it.
Ludwig also reported the committee's remaining schedule for the next two months before it recommends two policies to the board:
- Dec. 5 to 16 — Continue to fine-tune and make minor adjustments to maps.
- Dec. 19 — Compare and contrast all maps, and recommend two intermediate and two high school scenarios to the school board.
- Jan. 9 — Update the information used to draw the maps with data from 2011.
The next school board meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 12 at the District Administration Building, 1818 W. Worley St.