Belcher: Proposed increase to funding formula still not enough for Columbia

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 | 8:30 p.m. CST; updated 8:53 p.m. CST, Wednesday, January 30, 2013

COLUMBIA — In his State of the State address Monday night, Gov. Jay Nixon proposed putting an additional $65.9 million into Missouri's foundation formula. It is used to determine how much state money public school districts get. 

But even with that infusion of new money, the foundation formula still would be underfunded and unable to work the way it was intended to, Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher said. It would still be $620 million short statewide, according to a fiscal summary for education in Nixon's proposed budget.

The formula attempts to create equity in education in Missouri’s districts by filling in when local tax revenue falls short. A district with higher amounts of local property tax support won't receive as much formula funds as districts with lower support.

Money is not distributed in an equitable fashion across the state because the foundation has been underfunded for years, Belcher said.

"Columbia is in the bottom 10 percent of districts who receive money from the foundation formula," Belcher said. The district received $600,000 less in state support this year than last year.

Although the district is likely to see a slight increase in funding under the proposed budget, Columbia would still receive less funding than districts with the same number of students, Belcher said.

"Columbia, St. Louis and Kansas City (public schools) all have roughly the same amount of students, at 17,000," Belcher said. "We receive $50 million from the state. St. Louis and Kansas City receive close to $90 million.”

According to Missouri Comprehensive Data System from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Eduction at, the enrollment numbers for September 2012 are 17,707 students in Columbia, 24,766 students in St. Louis and 16,687 students in Kansas City.

Given tight fiscal times, Nixon's proposed increases exceeded the expectations of the Missouri School Boards' Association, spokesman Brent Ghan said.

"Overall we couldn’t be more pleased with the increases," Ghan said. "We will recommend to the General Assembly that these budget increases be approved."

In all, Nixon proposed $100 million more for K-12 education. Under his proposed budget, a portion would go toward lengthening the school year.

"Right now, Missouri has the fourth-shortest school year in the nation," Nixon said. "Adding six more days to the next school year will give teachers more time to work with their students and give kids more time to learn."

The addition of six school days would cost Columbia Public Schools more than $3.5 million annually, Belcher said.

"I would love six more days," Belcher said. "But I don't know a way to do that without paying faculty and staff six additional days of pay."

Columbia Public Schools has a healthy summer school that adds 20 days to the school year, Belcher said.

"It's optional, but 60 percent of elementary-aged kids attend," Belcher said. "So the majority of K-five students attend 194 days of school or have the option to."

Ghan said a concern with the lengthened year is increases to the personnel and facility costs. "Provided the resources are there, there is a lot of merit to lengthening the school year," he said.

Nixon also proposed creation of the BOOST Fund, or Building Opportunities in Our Schools Today. It would provide money for school construction through bond issues, which would allow the state to establish a permanent, low-interest loan fund.

"We are one of the few states without state support for construction," Ghan said. "This could greatly help with facilities in need."

The BOOST Fund would not likely affect Columbia Public Schools because the district has excellent bond capacity, Belcher said.

Increased funding of $8 million from the local tax base has replaced some of the lost state revenue for the district this year, Belcher said. Of the increase, $4 million was used to replace lost state funding, $2 million was used to hire teachers and the remaining $2 million was used for instructional technology.

"We hired about 65 new teachers this year," Belcher said. "This gave us some of the best class sizes in years. … It’s slowed down some of the bleeding."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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Mike Martin January 30, 2013 | 7:46 p.m.

Have you ever read a story about Columbia Public Schools that wasn't talking woefully about the "funding formula," while using descriptors like "bleeding" to describe the district budget?

I haven't, not in 15 years.

But I have seen the school district build grand and palatial new schools (e.g. the $80 million Battle High); spend $8 million on new admin offices; overpay for basics (e.g., the Phyllis Chase breakfast billing controversy); and gladly foot the bill for multimillion dollar land purchases from prominent local developers (which the district is fixing to do yet again -- it's an old scam developers just LOVE. They get to sell land in the sticks, then build subdivisions around the "new school.")

People need to start thinking of CPS as not only an educator, but a publicly-funded piggy bank for the prominent and powerful -- people like Bob Pugh, Tom Atkins, Rob Wolverton, and the latest lineup of developers (Sapp, Potterfield, Linnemeyer) fixing to sell land at inflated prices for the latest elementary school.

Only then will voters understand why the piggy bank will NEVER have enough money; why the funding formula will NEVER be enough; and why local taxpayers will be besieged with property tax increases forever -- or until they start wising up and insisting the district be a better steward of public funds.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 31, 2013 | 8:11 a.m.

There's a simple, fair, long-term solution: require parents to pay the difference between the schools portion of their property taxes and the amount that the district spends to educate their child(ren).

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 31, 2013 | 10:19 a.m.

Never enough money (funding)? Golly gee, doesn't that also
describe our federal government?

Got a problem (including those tne government has actually created)? No problem, we'll just throw a bunch of money at it and declare it solved.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 31, 2013 | 10:45 a.m.

How is Jimmy's solution fair, when there are so many unfair things about how the district spends money?

I pay enough property tax and don't want have to shoulder any extra burdens for lavish admin offices and new schools used by wealthy developers to anchor subdivisions in the sticks.

Once payment responsibility starts falling to individual parents, we lose the power of the collective voice now forced to pay for everything via property taxes and such.

I admit it's not a very powerful voice, since it too often buys into the idea that "it's all for children."

But it's the only voice we have, and I don't want to see it diluted.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 31, 2013 | 11:22 a.m.

Mike, it's fair because it requires parents to pay their fair share of the community's cost of educating their child(ren). Everyone else would continue to pay for schools via property taxes (plus via federal and state taxes, too), but parents now would be required to close the gap, thus eliminating the shortfall problem that Belcher, et al perpetually bellyache about.

To your point: When a one-child household that currently pays, say, $2,500 in the schools portion of its property taxes is required to pay another $6,500 because the district spends $9K+ per student, you'll see parents en masse finally get serious about controlling spending. Put simply, this funding mechanism eliminates the fallacies of "free money" and "Somebody else gets to pay." DINKs, empty nesters and everyone else will benefit as a result.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking January 31, 2013 | 1:30 p.m.

Well, except what do parents do that live in inexpensive houses (i. e., pay little property tax) and have school age kids? It's impractical to think people would consider that as a cost of raising kids before having them. It would impact lower income families harder than upper income, and lower income families are (or should be) are the ones that would most benefit from keeping their kids in school. I don't think your proposal is very practical.


(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 31, 2013 | 1:40 p.m.

I couldn't disagree more, Jimmy, and I'm wondering -- are you a CPS parent? I don't think many parents would agree with you, either.

First thing I'm saying as a parent would be: get the county assessor to start assessing development land fairly before you come after me for more money.

And that's just the first thing.

You can't have one half of a system exercising poor budgetary judgment (the school district) and then expect one fraction of the other half of the system (parents) to make up the difference, especially when broad public pressure is the most important way to keep budgetary shenanigans at bay.

A great case in point was the public pressure applied when Dr. Belcher was trying to renege on the district's longstanding air conditioning installation promise. Lack of air conditioning has been a favorite carrot to hold out to voters for years, in exchange for property tax increases. Dr. Belcher clearly wanted to keep the carrot dangling.

The best way for the district to make up for Belcher's Shortfall is for the district to get its budgetary house in order, and stop spending untold millions enriching developers and coddling senior administrators.


(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 31, 2013 | 1:45 p.m.

"Well, except what do parents do that live in inexpensive houses (i. e., pay little property tax) and have school age kids?"

No except about it. They -- and renters -- would pay, too. Yes, it's a significant amount of money, but it's not fair for them to expect everyone else to pick up the majority of the cost of educating their child(ren). And keep in mind that parents also get plenty of tax breaks.

The alternative is to maintain the status quo, where parents continually vote to have other people pay an increasingly larger share of the cost of education. The only way to dispel the illusion of free money is to require them to pick up their fair share of the tab.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking January 31, 2013 | 1:58 p.m.

Jimmy Bearfield wrote:

"No except about it. They -- and renters -- would pay, too."

But what if they couldn't pay it? $15,000 of after tax income for two children per year (for example) is a sizable chunk of change even for an otherwise frugal, middle income family. Your proposal would simply render a lot of disproportionately lower income kids unable to go to school. What would they do then (other than get into trouble)?


(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 31, 2013 | 2:31 p.m.

Mark, can we agree that CPS will continue to argue that it's underfunded? If so, can we also agree that the schools portion of property taxes will continue to increase? If so, then the next question is, are you willing to continue to pick up more and more of the tab?

My property taxes increased $500+ due to the latest school tax hike. Check your statements to see how much yours increased. Then ask yourself what you could do with that money -- put it toward retirement, a new bicycle, whatever -- if it could stay in your pocket because a new funding mechanism requires parents to pay their fair share.

Yes, $15,000 is a lot of money. It's also an example of why people in middle and lower classes get a disproportionate share of government spending: $8 for every $1 paid in taxes, in some cases. If a couple is unwilling or unable to afford to pay their fair share, then they shouldn't have kids.

The money for schools has to come from somewhere. The only question is how much more each of us is willing to pony up every time CPS comes around crying poverty.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 31, 2013 | 2:34 p.m.

... grand and palatial schools...

We have a school bond issue to vote on next Tuesday: our tenth grade school (city of ~50,000). It will look just like our 9th and 8th grade schools, because it will be built to the same plan. This saves architectural fees, and the particular design reduces building costs.

My high school had a campus (more than one biulding). One building, built in 1870 (Custer had yet to make his last stand), was unsafe and not used. Everything has now been torn down. It was a butt ugly campus.

The point of the two illustrations might be that what is important is not how "grand" the school building is but the learning -or lack of it- that happens inside.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking January 31, 2013 | 4:05 p.m.

Jimmy, I think you know I basically agree that people should plan and pay their own way. But there might be many that for whatever reason, perhaps very legitimate, might not able to cover the cost of educating their kids despite their best planning. What happens to their kids? You can't just not have them attend school. It's illegal, and a lot of those kids might wind up in juvie or in jail later in life, costing far more per year than sending them to school.

It's impractical. I doubt there are any public school districts anywhere that operate the way you advocate.

I may not get back to see any response before the thread closes, so if you don't respond or I can't see it, hold that thought and we'll get back to it later.


(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 31, 2013 | 5:36 p.m.

That's the easy way out, for sure: Just plead poverty and hope that the politicians go along. That's how we've reached the point that there are so many breaks that nearly half of the population is excused from federal income taxes.

One solution is that if you can't afford that year's tax bill, a lien could go on your home. Another possibility -- and this would require federal cooperation -- is that the amount would be deducted from your future Social Security benefits.

The bottom line is that 1) the money has to come from somewhere and 2) it's not sustainable nor fair to keep increasing the burden on everyone else.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 31, 2013 | 5:57 p.m.

Your "perfect plan" seems naive and uninformed.

If you can't afford this year's tax bill, a lien ALREADY goes on your home. You lose it to a tax sale after a couple of years of non-payment. And just try attaching "future" Social Security benefits. Not happenin'.

Are you a parent? Do you own a home and pay annual property taxes? Do you know anything about school budgets, where the money goes, etc.? It seems like the answer is "no" on all three.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 31, 2013 | 6:36 p.m.

Are you a parent? Do you own a home and pay annual property taxes?

So he should just shut up if his answers are "no"?

Imagine have to be a member of the class to have an opinion.

Make sure such a qualification for posting doesn't apply to you on other topics.

Silly questions, as if he has NO vested interest in education, budgets, and taxes unless he is a member of your classification.

He's a citizen, dude, and that's all the qualification he needs. Your questions have no bearing upon the legitimacy of his positions.

You have to come up with better reasons to negate him. This approach won't cut the mustard.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 31, 2013 | 6:41 p.m.

So tell us, wise Mike, where you would get the money from. You complain about spending, but you're kidding yourself if you believe that the district will ever become as thrifty as you'd like. So who foots the bill?

"If you can't afford this year's tax bill, a lien ALREADY goes on your home."

Right. And this would add to that amount.

"And just try attaching 'future' Social Security benefits. Not happenin'."

It happens if enough people convince enough legislators to fix the broken schools funding mechanism.

As for your final three questions, the answer to all three is, yes.

And here are two questions for you: Do you have any kids? If so, what was the schools portion of the property taxes on your home (not your rentals, too)?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 1, 2013 | 7:29 a.m.

Just a reminder that there are parents who by choice pay more than school taxes to further their children's education, when they send the children to private schools. They don't have to do that (public schools being available) but that's what they think is best for their children.

If children are important, then their eucation is also important. If they are merely a social appendage...

(Report Comment)

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