Voter-approval of two funding measures eases financial strain on Columbia schools

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 | 9:19 p.m. CDT; updated 9:41 a.m. CDT, Thursday, April 5, 2012

COLUMBIA — With the approval of a 40-cent tax levy increase and a $50 million bond issue on Tuesday's ballot, Columbia Public Schools can more comfortably plan its future budget.

"We're still not out of the woods, but we think we're healthy three to four years with good management, and if the economy comes back and the state starts to figure out some revenue sources, but we should be good way past that," Superintendent Chris Belcher said at the district's Finance Committee meeting Wednesday night.

Funds from the tax increase will be included in the district's 2012-13 fiscal year, which begins July 1, Chief Financial Officer Linda Quinley said after the meeting. She said the levy is expected to raise $7.8 million, which the district will begin to receive when people pay their property taxes at the end of the year.

As part of the proposed 2012-13 budget, the district plans to add 41 positions for fall 2012, including positions that had previously been cut because of declining funds.

Quinley said some positions would have been added even if the tax levy increase had not been approved, but other positions, such as elementary teachers, secondary teachers and counselors, would be added back specifically because the levy increase passed.

Quinley also said that the approved increase will allow the district to sustain current programs. Otherwise, the district would have had to find ways to make cuts.

Additionally, because the levy passed, the district plans to budget $2 million for technology supplies and support.

"It means we get to provide better, more direct service to students," she said.

Since the newly-approved $50 million bond issue will not be issued until November 2014, the main step now is to look at preliminary planning, Deputy Superintendent Nick Boren said after the meeting.

The district will consider the location of an elementary school scheduled to open in August 2016 and start looking at the design of the early childhood learning center, which would open in August 2017.

Other items in the $50 million bond issue include planned improvements and expansions to schools and work on the district's bus barn lot.

Boren said there was potential for most of the bond issue-funded projects to begin in spring 2015 and be completed by summer 2016.

"It's an exciting time," he said. "We're able to more forward with the beginning of the 10-year facilities plan."

Quinley and Belcher agreed after discussing the proposed 2012-13 budget that the district would be in good financial shape for the next few years.

"You'll remember when we first started having the levy conversation, we talked 40 cents, 60 cents, 80 cents," Quinley said. "We knew 40 cents wasn't going to really do everything long-term, but was enough to keep us going until we gave this economy some time to turn around."

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