School board candidates critique funding proposal

Sunday, April 3, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:24 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

A district official and school board candidates are concerned that a new school funding formula for the state would not be fully funded, but they also said that it’s hard to tell how the formula would affect Columbia Public Schools.

The school funding formula has been said to be under-funded and has received criticism for its inequitable distribution of money to school districts across the state.

When, about a month ago, the state rejected the proposal by Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, to change the formula, the plan by Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, took over.

Robb’s plan included using income taxes to fund schools instead of property taxes.

Shields’ plan would give the Columbia Public School District $1.3 million in its first year and cost Missouri about $500 million in the first three to five years.

School board candidates said allocating additional funds is not a difficult thing to do, but they question where the money would actually come from.

“They are going to have to come up with some more money one way or another,” said school board candidate Darin Preis, the director of the Missouri Head Start collaboration office. Elections will be held Tuesday.

Preis also said that the district might not see a dramatic change in funding because Columbia falls in the middle of the formula’s factors.

Jacque Cowherd, Columbia Public Schools deputy superintendent, disagreed, saying that the district was being penalized for its willingness to fund the school through increasing property taxes.

With Shields’ proposal, Columbia would only be able to collect 80 percent of the assessed tax evaluation. The district now receives 100 percent. Cowherd said residents might incur higher property taxes if the district is unable to collect the additional 20 percent.

“Our community is going to have to bear more and more of the tax burden,” he said.

Incumbent school board candidate Don Ludwig has similar concerns about the amount of funding Columbia would receive from the new formula.

“First, no matter how they change the formula, it is the funding that counts,” he said. “If the funding increases about 2 or 3 percent per year, it does not matter how the formula is constructed.”

Ludwig agreed with Cowherd that unless funding is increased, the community would end up paying.

“If funding continues at current levels, there are only two choices: raise operating taxes or reallocate resources,” he said.

First-time school board candidate Mike Martin, a science journalist, said the formula is in the beginning stages of being rewritten.

“It’s too early to come down on one side or the other of any funding-fix proposal,” Martin said.

He also said it’s not clear, yet, as to how the state would fund the additional costs of Shields’ proposal.

Cowherd agreed with Martin, saying that it makes it difficult to tell how Shields’ proposal would affect the district, but that the formula wouldn’t benefit Columbia as it stands now.

“I applaud (the government) for the flexibility they give the district, but I’m concerned about them squeezing down the dollars,” he said.

Regardless of the amount of money the district receives through the formula, Cowherd said they would have to maintain quality teachers and manageable student-to-teacher ratios.

“Whatever the proposal ends up finally being, we’ll work with it,” he said.

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