Schools doubt Blunt’s proposal

A Columbia Public Schools official says the governor’s education plan could cause problems for the district.
Sunday, November 6, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:35 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

A spokeswoman for Columbia Public Schools said Saturday that an education initiative supported by Gov. Matt Blunt would ignore crucial support services under the governor’s definition of classroom instruction.

The Our Students First proposal, outlined by Blunt at a news conference Thursday at Columbia Regional Airport, would ensure at least 65 cents of every dollar is spent on direct classroom instruction. Blunt said the current system allocates too much funding to administrative costs.

Lynn Barnett, assistant superintendent for student support services, said the district supports the initiative’s goal — to spend dollars for the maximum benefit of students — but has concerns that the plan leaves out certain support resources.

The governor’s broad definition of instruction includes expenses such as teachers’ salaries, textbooks and classroom resources. But the definition leaves out media specialists, psychologists, social workers, counselors and nurses, Barnett said.

“If we didn’t have them, our kids couldn’t learn,” she said. “There are children who need the support of people other than teachers to help them academically.”

Blunt’s definition also excludes funding for facilities, utilities, operating costs and administration, Barnett said. Blunt said Thursday that capital budgets, where facility spending falls, should not be included in the proposal because that money is spent on bureaucracy and not where young people can be directly impacted — in the classroom.

Blunt said an average of 61 percent of school funding is spent on instruction. Too often, that money doesn’t reach the classroom and the very students whom the funding should benefit, he said in introducing the proposal.

Barnett said Blunt was using old data to evaluate schools’ performances. The governor’s information on districts’ expenditures was based on 2002-2003 data, Barnett said.

“We haven’t been able to match our budget figures with the budget information provided by the governor’s staff,” she said.

Rep. Scott Muschany, R-St. Louis, and Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, will sponsor the bill in their respective chambers. If the legislature approves the initiative, voters will decide in November 2006 whether the proposal becomes law. Districts that fail to meet the 65 percent goal will be required to make at least a 2 percent improvement the following year.

“We believe we’re spending 80 to 85 percent,” Barnett said. “But our definition of instruction may not match the governor’s.”

Barnett said the district will have to make some changes to its budgets if it fails to meet the 65 percent figure.

Blunt said the initiative may increase teachers’ salaries, although he did not say how.

Barnett said teachers’ salaries are already a priority for the district.

“I don’t think this will increase teachers’ salaries,” she said. “I think most school districts would have done it if they could.”

Blunt said the initiative will funnel an additional $272 million into Missouri classrooms. But Barnett said she believes the initiative will cause schools only to reallocate existing funds.

Groups such as the Missouri State Teachers Association and Missouri School Boards’ Association have yet to weigh in on the initiative. Barnett said the district plans to discuss the proposal with its board of education, legislators and community members.

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