Columbia Public Schools needs more funding for continued success, School Board says

Tuesday, December 6, 2011 | 10:23 p.m. CST; updated 8:59 a.m. CST, Wednesday, December 7, 2011

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.

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Mike Martin December 6, 2011 | 10:59 p.m.

"We’re just trying to maintain the high quality we have right now."

This is lip service given the current spending pattern we routinely see here: spend the big bucks on admin priorities and patronage (e.g. powerful special interest groups), leaving the little bucks -- or cuts -- for the constituents.

Take $7.9 million for a new admin headquarters debated for a mere three months last summer before approved; the many astronomically-expensive errors that have cost the district mightily with the acquisition of all the St. Charles Road Development land from the Pugh-Atkins partnership; the careless planning that went into Battle High, designed it would now appear -- after three multi-million dollar acquisitions and countless more dollars in infrastructure -- to enrich this politically powerful group; the still-unfulfilled air conditioning promise Supt. Belcher tried to walk back earlier this year; and so on.

"We’re spending $2.9 million that we never intended to spend," CPS Chief Financial Officer Linda Quinley said about the Battle High land fiasco.

"Hopefully we can learn from this and not make these mistakes again," then-School Board member Ines Segert added.

Fat chance.

Citizens: We can't keep doing this. It's not sustainable, and it only gets worse over time. How long have we been struggling with the same old same old problems, with promises that greater spending, higher taxes, more bonds, etc. will make it all better?

School trailers? The Achievement Gap? Sagging teacher pay? Air Conditioning?

And yet, how long have we been spending gigantic bucks on admin offices; high-priced consultants; over-priced land that its owners pay no property taxes on; admin pay packages; and so on.

Why is it that our local officials will pussy-foot OUR priorities literally to death -- like this whole air conditioning business -- while approving a big paycheck to an Atkins lickety-split?

Here, little people, they seem to always say. Here's some peanuts for the rest of you while the people we're REALLY afraid of get caviar and lobster -- or a tax break you can drive a tank through.

If they don't like us, after all, we lose our jobs. We don't get elected. We don't get hired. If we don't hop to it when they demand it, we'll get our butts bounced out of here faster than you can say Henry J. Waters!

(Here's Supt. Belcher pitching TIFs -- TIFs for heaven's sake:

We just passed $120 million in bonds in the past few years, with a promise that this was the much-needed panacea. But of course, most of that money is going or gone, given how carelessly much of it has been spent.

It's like a bloody broken record, or like insanity -- keep doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.

(Report Comment)
dave smith December 7, 2011 | 10:11 a.m.

80% of Columbia do not have children---maybe it's right that all residents pay but maybe those that have children need to pay more. Most of them choose to have children yet those with none can't choose not to help support their children-via school taxes and subsidies through income tax breaks...I'm just say'n...

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield December 7, 2011 | 10:28 a.m.

"Most of them choose to have children yet those with none can't choose not to help support their children-via school taxes and subsidies through income tax breaks."

And here's the math: Suppose that a couple with one child owns a $300K house. Their property taxes will be about $2,900, of which $2,300 goes to the school district. In 2010, CPS spent $9,343 to educate their child, or $6,443 more than they paid in property taxes.

Where does the rest of the $6,443 come from? Some of it from the state and feds, including whatever the parents paid in income taxes, minus the dependent-child deductions. But they'd have to have a heck of an income, one not reflected in the price of their home, to pay enough in federal and state taxes to cover that $6,443. And if they have two kids, the gap is even larger.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks December 7, 2011 | 11:59 a.m.

And once again we see that the local school board is blind to the fact that places like Detroit and New Jersey and the likes spend upwards of 15k a student and have some of the most expensive school systems yet the kids performances keep dropping.
I wonder how America even made to where we are now with the under funded school systems of the early 1900's.

I would like to start out by saying we should not be taxes for education and people should pay private schools to educate the kids. But I know that is not going to change so here is by next best idea.
I do think everyone needs to pay a bit because like it is stated it does benefit the city as a whole. Keep the % the same but add an additional amount onto everyone that has a kid in the local public school system. If you have a child you pay an additional 2000 every Dec 31st and if you have another child then it would cost an additional 1000 for each child.

(Report Comment)
Sally Willis December 7, 2011 | 3:09 p.m.

So I'm just curious as to who should pay the extra amount when only one parent takes care of the child the parent who supports the child or the parent who doesn't? Also what about the fact that some of these people who have school aged children now have been paying these taxes since they were fifteen or sixteen should they now be pounded again? And If you want to have productive people in the future we need to provide adequate education now. However I'm confused as to why we can pay millions for a new building for staff when the teachers make next to nothing and the students don't have textbooks????

(Report Comment)
James Ayello December 7, 2011 | 3:35 p.m.

I'm James Ayello, the reporter for this story. First, I want to thank those who have commented for spelling out their concerns with this issue. I want to assure all of you the Missourian will be looking into the issues surrounding the bond proposal and continue to report the developments. The Missourian is thinking of following up this story with a story about community members who would be for or against this proposed bond issue and tax increase and why they feel that way. If you would like to contribute to this story, feel free to contact me. The Missourian and I would love to hear from you. My email address is

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro December 7, 2011 | 3:36 p.m.

("With neither adequate leadership from the school board nor sufficient funding from taxpayers, the school system basically collapsed--test scores plummeted, assaults rose, the good teachers either burned out or accepted better offers elsewhere. By the time the plaintiffs (originally, schoolchildren and the school district itself) filed suit against the state of Missouri in 1977, wooden windows in the school buildings had rotted to the point where panes were literally falling out, ceiling tiles were coming down, and the halls reeked of urine. There were exposed electrical boxes, broken lights, crumbing asbestos falling from overhead pipes, nonworking drinking fountains, and rainwater running down the stairwells. Textbooks were decades out of date, with pages missing and the covers torn off. Emergency doors were chained shut. Boilers were so erratic that in some classrooms students wore coats and gloves all winter while in other classrooms in the same school it was so hot that the windows had to be kept open in the coldest weather.")
("In an effort to bring the district into compliance with his liberal interpretation of federal law, the judge ordered the state and district to spend nearly $2 billion over the next 12 years to build new schools, integrate classrooms, and bring student test scores up to national norms.
It didn’t work.")
Read more:

(Report Comment)

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