Columbia School Board again changes Mill Creek boundaries

Thursday, January 23, 2014 | 8:09 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Attendance boundaries for Mill Creek Elementary School were adjusted once more by the Columbia School Board on Thursday to correct a miscalculation.

Forty-four students living on Bethany and Bellview drives will remain at Mill Creek for the 2014-15 school year instead of attending Paxton Keeley Elementary School. Peter Stiepleman, assistant superintendent for elementary education, apologized to the board and families involved.

"We've put them on an emotional roller coaster," Stiepleman said. "That's frustrating, and all I can say is I'm sorry."

The boundaries are being changed to address overcrowding at Mill Creek. The board originally finalized them on Jan. 13.

Stiepleman said the error was noticed as letters were being prepared for the parents of affected students. About 100 students had been relocated to Paxton Keeley, but the school could accommodate only 60 of them.

"It's frustrating to you," board member Jonathan Sessions said to Stiepleman. "It's frustrating to us. But it's also frustrating to the parents."

"We've gone from aggravated to infuriated," Michael Head, a parent of a first-grader at Mill Creek, told the board.

Matthes presents TIF information

Also Thursday morning, City Manager Mike Matthes talked about the effect of tax-increment financing, or TIF, on the public schools. He said a TIF district is being proposed in central Columbia in response to a "tsunami of development pressure."

TIF is a method of financing economic development and infrastructure that limits an area's use of future property tax income to a set amount. Money earned in excess of that amount is used to finance development that pertains to the area.

"Our guess is you'll have less income in a TIF district," Matthes told board members.

The proposed TIF district would affect property tax income for Hickman and Douglass high schools; Field School, which is used for gifted and preschool classes; Lee Elementary School; and Jefferson Middle School, according to a map Matthes presented.

Matthes said new infrastructure, including sewers and electrical lines, would be funded through the TIF. The affected area is mainly downtown and would include what Matthes called "high-density residential projects" near MU, the downtown area and utilities along Business Loop 70.

Sessions expressed concern about funding development through TIF as opposed to the more conventional bond issue.

"It might put us in a position to have to raise our taxes," Sessions said.

Matthes called his presentation the starting point of the conversation and said decisions on the proposed TIF could not be made until Development Strategies, the third party the city consulted to draw out a TIF plan, delivers financial figures in mid-February.

Board President Christine King and member Jan Mees will be included in a TIF commission, Matthes said.

No vote was taken.

Other actions

Battle tower: Deputy Superintendent Nick Boren and Chief Academic Officer Sally Beth Lyon proposed leasing out land at Battle High School so that a 300-foot communications tower could be built there. The tower is required by the Boone County Fire Protection District.

The district has issued a request for proposal to build the tower, and there is already a vendor interested in the opportunity. Lyon and Boren expressed concerns about the district being responsible for the entire cost to construct the tower.

Ballot approved: The board unanimously approved a sample ballot for the April 8 election. Up for a vote will be a $50 million bond issue and three positions on the school board. Candidates are incumbents Jonathan Sessions and Helen Wade, former school board member Paul Cushing and newcomer Joseph A. Toepke.

Superintendent search: King said the board's search for a superintendent to succeed Chris Belcher is "off to a great start." She said the board has already received phone calls from interested applicants and will meet with Bob Watkins, head of the search commission, on Feb. 26 to review the applicants.

The plan is to name a new superintendent by spring break at the end of March, King said.

Belcher is retiring in June and will take a position in the MU College of Education.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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