School board to hear latest budget plans

Building bonds and federal laws comprise a test of the district’s budget-drawing skill.
Sunday, March 7, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:08 p.m. CDT, Friday, May 16, 2008

Money management is something children begin learning at an early age with their piggy banks and allowances. One group in charge of children’s education is now learning just how small their allowance can get.

The Columbia Board of Education will meet Monday night, and discussions will continue to focus on funding — or, more painfully — the lack of it.

The school board has struggled with budget decisions for the 2004-05 school year in the past months. Some issues of debate have been whether to allow $500 teacher pay raises and whether to deplete the district’s reserve fund. Board discussions have triggered remarks about picking the best of bad scenarios — for example: Having bigger classes or having trouble keeping teachers because of salary limitations.

The most important thing to parents is that the schools continue to provide high quality education, even during times when the state is unwilling to do so, said Meg Milanick, Grant Elementary PTA president.

“Parents at my school believe it can not be done by cutting classroom teachers — small classroom size is vital to good education,” Milanick said.

The latest consensus involved neither additional raises nor drastic reserve use; the board decided in February to stick with the district’s salary schedule and keep reserve funds at 18 percent. This would translate into eliminating 49.5 staff positions for the 2004-2005 school year.

“People need to realize we’re talking about positions being cut, not necessarily people,” said Jacque Cowherd, deputy superintendent of the Columbia Public School District. “The school district has enough attrition and retirement that most of our teachers, especially at the elementary level, will have a job. But we will lose some people, and that’s unfortunate.”

Construction bond on upcoming ballot

Cowherd spoke Friday to the Boone County Muleskinners, a group affiliated with the Missouri Democratic Party that sponsors speakers on government and public affairs. Cowherd addressed the group about the upcoming bond issue on the April 6 ballot, which is important to the district’s budget for 2004-2005.

The $22.5 million bond issue would be used for new construction, renovation and maintenance issues in the district. In addition to general repairs, specific projects would include renovating bathrooms, adding classrooms and purchasing new technology and computer equipment, according to Cowherd.

Money from the bond issue is also designated to start acquiring land for a fourth high school and a new elementary school, which, according to administrators, are needed due to district growth.

General maintenance of the 30 schools, five of which are more than 80 years old, is also a top concern.

“The school district has 1,660,000 square feet of roof space — that’s a lot of opportunity for leaks,” Cowherd said jokingly.

Even if this bond issue passes, the district still has a budget shortfall of $8.7 million. The administration will present more detailed budget plans, including more specific program and staff reduction guidelines, for discussion to the school board Monday night.

The administration will continue to refine the budget plans so they can submit a budget to the board in May to be finalized in June. The final budget for next year also depends on the state budget for public schools, which isn’t passed until July.

Board also discussed No Child Left Behind

Another discussion item on the agenda is a report from the Achievement Gap Task Force, a district group that formed in October and is in charge of identifying gaps in achievement and addressing those problems.

The Task Force was organized to help efforts involving the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which targets achievement gaps by penalizing schools that don’t meet federal standards.

The report comes three weeks after Tom Davis, the president of the Missouri State Board of Education, wrote all Missouri educators a letter commiserating with them on “unrealistic federal requirements.”

“Many schools or districts have been upset and quite confused when they earn the state’s ‘Distinction in Performance’ award, which is based on Missouri’s accreditation standards, but are placed on a ‘list’ of schools that did not meet ‘Adequate Yearly Progress’ under No Child Left Behind,” the letter said.

“These apparent inconsistencies and ratings stem from the same source — No Child Left Behind,” the letter said.

The letter goes on with a bulleted list commenting on difficulties in fulfilling the act. These difficulties include: lack of consistency among states, the ease at which a school can be labeled as failing to achieve adequate yearly progress, and the confusion of standards, calculations and funding.

Davis also compliments the determination of Missouri teachers and encourages educators to stay committed in this time of increasing achievement standards and falling budgets. The entire letter can be found on the CPS Web site, www.columbia.k12.

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