Addressing the problems of overcrowding, rising energy costs and the number of school transitions facing the Columbia Public Schools is going to take money.
Rejecting a plan that included a 13-cent tax levy increase, the Columbia School Board voted unanimously Monday night in favor of three bond issues totaling $180 million — one in 2007, 2011 and 2013 for $60 million each — to pay for the implementation of the district’s Long-range Facilities Planning Committee master plan.
“The board’s vote tonight is not the end of the process,” Superintendent Phyllis Chase said. “In many ways, it’s the beginning.”
The bond issue must be finalized by mid-January in order to appear on the April 3 ballot, said Chase, who presented the three financial plans to the board.
Under the new plan, the number of school transitions, or the number of times students switch schools within the district, will be reduced to two from three. The plan calls for the construction of two new elementary schools and one new high school. According to the master plan, elementary schools will include grades K-5; intermediate schools will include students in grades 6-8; and high schools will include grades 9-12.
Chase said the current fifth- and sixth-grade students could be some of the first to experience the new high school structure.
In November, the committee presented to board members a series of recommendations meant to address problems facing the district. Overcrowding, the rising cost of energy and the number of school transitions were among those problems. The committee’s master report had three parts: an educational adequacy study, an engineering study and a community engagement survey.
After the committee announced its recommendations, the district realized its need for more money. Chase was asked at the November meeting to create a list of options detailing which issues need to be addressed first, the cost of financing these issues, and if a bond issue or tax levy should be included on the April ballot.
Two of the options presented by Chase at the meeting proposed a series of bond issues, while the third suggested a tax-rate increase in addition to the bond issues. The first option called for three bond issues totaling $180 million — one in 2007, 2011 and 2013 — for $60 million each. The second option was composed of two bond issues totaling $180 million — one in 2007 for $125 million and one in 2013 for $55 million. Her final option included a tax-rate increase in addition to three bond issues, totalling $295.2 million. The bond issues in the third option would have been for $93.8 million in 2007, $78.8 million in 2011 and $122.6 million in 2013. The third option would have also resulted in the 13-cent tax levy increase.
By going with the first option, Columbia will experience an economic benefit with $180 million being pumped into the city by 2013, board member Darin Preis said.
Before Monday’s meeting, board members Don Ludwig and Karla DeSpain said that building a new elementary school and high school within the next five years should be the district’s top priority because of overcrowding. DeSpain said that the general overcrowding in schools, the number of mobile classrooms and the number of times that students transition from school to school were issues that needed to be addressed.
In other action, cohort groups that have been collecting data during the school year presented a synopsis of their findings. The cohort groups, which were made up of Columbia high schools and elementary schools, had been grouped together based on similar size and demographics and worked together to identify areas where they could improve instruction to meet each group’s needs during the 2006-07 school year.
Two of the groups, which included Columbia elementary schools, reported that one of the top priorities was to increase MAP scores within their group. The other group, which included high schools and the Career Center, aimed to increase the percentage of students attending school at least 95 percent of the time by five percent every year.