School board acknowledges budget cuts must be made

The audience was left concerned Monday.
Tuesday, March 9, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:55 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Columbia Public School Board realized Monday night it is going to have to make cuts to Columbia’s schools. But it doesn’t know where the cuts will be made, when they’ll be made or how much cutting will take place.

The only thing for sure is that the fate of Columbia’s teachers will come up in the April board meeting, Deputy Superintendent of Administration Jacque Cowherd said. Beyond that, the board members were reluctant to make any concrete budgeting actions, aside from adopting a philosophy on how budgeting should take place.

“These are guidelines for the administration on how to build a budget,” said board member J.C. Headley. “It is not a budget itself. The budget will not be done until we adopt it.”

One of the major concerns of the audience at the meeting was the potential effect of budget cuts on class size and teacher retention. But, Chase said, Columbia’s schools had a better student-to-teacher ratio than state recommendations — on average — and would likely continue to do so.

Board member Karla DeSpain also hopes to expand Columbia’s salary schedule, which determines pay increases for teachers.

Board members heard a presentation by the Achievement Gap Task Force, a panel that examined racial and socioeconomic reasons behind why some students perform better than others in Columbia’s schools.

Chase praised their conclusions, though they have not yet called for concrete action, saying the group confronted difficult subject matter.

“They had a courageous conversation,” Chase said after the meeting. “The next step is to call groups of students and talk about their perceptions. We want to listen.”

But that very lack of solid suggestions concerned some of the board members.

“At what point in time does the board see concrete recommendations so we can know what the financial trade-offs will be?” asked board member Donald Ludwig.

In its final action of the meeting, the board approved the sale of $8.8 million in general obligation bonds. The transaction is the final portion of a $23.8 million bond issued in 2002. The money will fund construction projects — such as carpeting, parking lot renovations, and updating media centers — in schools across the district.

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