Hallsville schools consider funding

Expected population boost would complicate the needs of the small district
Tuesday, October 19, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:30 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tom Baugh’s job as superintendent of the Hallsville R-IV school system has broader focus than his previous post as principal of Hallsville High School. Instead of focusing on one component of Hallsville’s sprawling and interconnected campus, Baugh must look beyond the small community to determine his school system’s status.

“When you take this chair, you become concerned about the district focus, the focus of K through 12,” Baugh said.

The 1,200-student district has had plenty of success stories, he said. The school performed well on standardized tests and didn’t lay off any teachers or ask for a tax increase. But its future is uncertain: Expected expansive growth of the community and a battle over changing the School Foundation Formula could create challenges for the district.

The two candidates running to represent Hallsville in the state legislature — Republican incumbent Steve Hobbs and Democratic challenger Lloyd Becker — offer differing opinions on how to keep the district on a successful path.

A top priority for Baugh and both candidates is addressing the shortcomings of the foundation formula, a complicated system that uses figures including taxable properties and school enrollment to determine how much funding the state provides for each school district.

The formula depends on local property values. It has not been fully funded by the state legislature in recent years and is often complicated by exceptions that allow some school districts to “grandfather in” set amounts of funding. This reduces the pool of money available to other districts, no matter what the formula says a district should get,

Hobbs said he is open to changing the formula.

“There needs to be more fairness into it. The guy who wrote the formula expected it to last 10 years at the most,” Hobbs said. “It’s lasted 14.”

An interim committee has been working on the issue for two years, Hobbs said. However, the call for a change has run into opposition.

“When you start refiguring the formula, the larger schools don’t like the way the formula is restructured because it goes to smaller schools,” Hobbs said. “If we refigure it, we have got to make sure small schools are protected.”

Becker said the Hallsville school district has shielded itself from trouble through the superintendent’s planning. But Becker said he wanted schools fully funded before changing the formula.

“All these other politicians can say ‘I’m for this’ or ‘I’m for that.’ I haven’t seen what they’ve put on the table as far as how they’re going to fund this stuff,” Becker said. “Whatever form it may take, I want to make sure the funds are there for kids.”

To fully fund the foundation formula, Becker said he would vote to close loopholes on riverboat gambling and out-of-state business, increasing state revenue and allowing more money to be allocated to the foundation formula.

Baugh said the way the state collects money for education is a major problem. The current formula collects property taxes, which Baugh said gives areas with higher property values an unfair advantage.

“You look at Clayton, you have high enough accessed evaluation. Even at lower tax rates, they still get huge amounts of revenue,” Baugh said.

He said Clayton spends $13,376 per student a year, while a student in Festus is allocated only $4,666 a year.

“I do begrudge the state if a student in Festus is only getting $4,666 for an education,” Baugh said.

“You just can’t do that at a high level for very long.”

The schools in Baugh’s area are relatively healthy, but the squabble between Gov. Bob Holden and the state legislature affected the salaries of Hallsville’s teachers.

“We were able to operate, but we don’t give the raises that we would like to,” Baugh said.

“The danger of that is about 80 percent of budget is in salaries — the only really large amount of money that we can control is salaries. If you give a raise, it’s real easy to give. You can’t take it away very easily.”

In July 2003, the governor withheld $220 million, including $118 million for lower education and $12 million for higher education, because of budget concerns. Nearly $300,000 of the money withheld was allocated to the Hallsville district’s $8 million budget.

The governor later released one-third of the money in 2003 and an additional $127 million for higher and lower education in April.

The money, however, didn’t reach Hallsville’s schools until May, too late to use it for that school year.

“The overall effect is it makes us go out more conservatively than we were in terms of adding programs, replacing things, raising teachers’ salaries,” Baugh said.

Other schools had to resort to more than just a more conservative mentality, he said.

“Some school districts laid off some people in March because contracts came out in April,” Baugh said. “They discontinued some positions and then, when the money was released, those positions were unfilled or canceled; it was late in the ballgame.”

Politicians need to do more than promise more education spending; they need to offer solutions for funding problems, he said.

“There’s going to have to be a radical shift in how we fund schools because of the disproportionate property values,” Baugh said. “It’s a complicated problem. When it’s complicated for us, it’s kind of unrealistic for the voter to understand these issues very well.”

As of the 2000 census, Hallsville’s population was 978, which included 275 families. Because of its proximity to Columbia, Baugh said, Hallsville has the potential for rapid growth. Hallsville could see as many as 200 new homes in its school district between this September and next September

“Gradual growth is healthy,” Baugh said.

“We’re rewarded for that in the state formula; our assessed evaluation continues to increase. If you have controlled growth, that’s a very healthy situation.”

Although that population expansion would lead to increased revenues, it would also force the school district to expand its buildings, Baugh said.

“We’re talking 300 or 200 kids, and then you’re talking about eight or 10 classrooms, at least,” he said. “And we don’t have eight or 10 empty spaces on campus.”

Baugh said a bond issue to increase the size of the school would take up to four years to implement, and it would be a tough sell to local voters.

“It’s hard for me to go to the taxpayers and say we’d like to add another $2.5 million elementary, even though we don’t have kids to put in it yet, just on the chance or the prediction that that’s going to occur,” Baugh said. “We have this balancing act for when we’re about to see the numbers and trying to get things done quickly enough.”

Hobbs said growth might present a problem to the school district in the future, but community leaders will be able to combat the issue.

“What I see in Hallsville is that the City Council, the city administrator, the police chief are all working together, so they’re encouraging growth,” Hobbs said. “But they’re all on the same page —that’s to provide quality education and a community for these kids to live in. When you’re all working together like that, you’re bound to succeed.”

Hobbs said the expansion of the campus is a possibility. He has talked with Baugh and the school board to work with the Missouri Department of Transportation to ensure expansion will fit in a future bypass plan.

He said the town is attracting families that want to move into a smaller school district.

“We’re getting some light manufacturing in town, and we’ve got people moving in, so I think economic development goes hand in glove,” Hobbs said.

“They had to add another fourth-grade class. If that’s not a sure-fire indication of growth, nothing is,” he said.

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