Schools must manage deficit, goals

Plans to incorporate new goals into the district bring concern.
Sunday, October 26, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:56 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Possibly short by about $12 million and equipped with new goals from the Board of Education and Superintendent Phyllis Chase, the Columbia Public School District looks toward a challenging future after Friday’s school board retreat.

According to preliminary reports, Columbia Public Schools could be $12.1 million under budget for the 2004-05 academic year, according to Jacque Cowherd, deputy superintendent for administration. That figure takes into account projected increases in fixed costs and expected budget shortfalls.

One of the increases is a $5-a-day raise for substitute teachers — their first raise in five years.

Cowherd estimated that 23 full-time employees would need to be cut for every $1 million deficit, if the figures remain the same when the budget is finalized next year.

In terms of administrative advances, Chase has outlined three goals for the next 18 months for administrative advancement. Working with her staff since July, she condensed previous district goals, such as:

n Increasing student achievement overall.

n Guiding improvement in the schools through the use of the most recent Comprehensive School Improvement Plan.

n Making the most of district resources.

Chase spoke about the importance of the CSIP as a “living document,” to be updated each year with specific initiatives. She said she hopes that the plan will be a model for continuous improvement.

“For everything we do, we want an action plan,” she said.

Chase also intends to incorporate the Board of Education’s goals and strategic initiatives with those of the district and the state for a five-year process of studying achievement, she said.

The consolidation of goals concerned some board members. Don Ludwig said he was uncomfortable that the new objectives cannot be measured in some ways.

“No matter what we do, I think we need measurable statements we can look at,” Ludwig said.

Some board members said they were concerned about the costs of record-keeping.

“I hope we can keep in mind how much paperwork these initiatives will have,” said Chuck Headley, board vice president.

Chase pointed to the importance of parents and the community — citing how critical it is for parents to get their children to school and to provide them with a quiet place to study at home and for the community to support schools with time and money.

“When a child fails, all parties need to come to the table,” Chase said.

Board member Elton Fay suggested that cost-effectiveness be included with the board’s current goals of boosting student achievement and eliminating academic disparities between groups of students.

“There has to be a way to do this less expensively — that has to be part of our goal,” Fay said.

Chase said she believes in setting objectives in all levels of education. “Do you set a goal and believe it’s not achievable or do you set a goal, try for it every day and see what you can do?” she said.

After goals were established, Cowherd spoke about a new student information system to be used at pilot schools for the 2004-05 school year, since the current system is outdated. The current system, which tracks such personal data as grades and health records, has been in place for 17 years, Cowherd said.

The biggest concern about the new system is security and stability of the software, Cowherd said.

A task force has been assembled to review the current system and to provide the criteria needed for a new system by early next year. A review of possible systems is due by spring, with a recommendation going to the superintendent by summer.

Missourian staff writer Meryl Dillman contributed to this report.

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