School board discusses using reserve funds to pay for 70 new positions, raises

Tuesday, June 5, 2007 | 4:58 p.m. CDT; updated 5:20 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

It was lonely inside the administration building this morning, unless you happened to be a member of the school board itself. Despite the growth of Columbia’s school system as reflected by the 2007-08 proposed budget, only one parent attended Columbia School Board’s 7:30 a.m. budget proposal meeting.

The board discussed the use of reserve funds to pay for 70 new positions, to increase teachers’ base pay by $1,000, and to pay for a nearly 9 percent increase in benefits for teachers and administration. Two additional days are also being added to the calender year due to the reduction of “early out” days, which are used for professional development, from eight to six.

The budget proposals are projected with respect to trends in student population.

“Student population drives the budget,” Phyllis Chase, superintendent of Columbia Public Schools, said.

The projected daily attendance for the 2007-08 school year is 16,847 students per day at the district’s 28 schools. Chase spoke of the important role principals and administrators have in getting students to attend school, which has a direct correlation to the district’s revenues.

Because revenues do not cover all proposed expenses, the school board is planning to dip into the reserve funds. The minimum balance for a reserve fund is set at 15 percent of budgeted expenses for the school year. The reserve balance is currently operating at nearly 10 percent over this minimum, according to the school board’s budget proposal.

State funds totaling slightly more than $1.6 million are currently used in funds designated as “capital projects,” such as classroom trailer upgrades, new band instruments or service equipment.

One time-sensitive issue the board is addressing is filling the 70 new staff positions called for in the budget. Special concern is being taken with reference to “critical hires,” which are harder-to-staff areas such as special education, math coaches and technology services. The board is also focusing on hiring additional personnel to assist with at-risk students, including additional guidance counselors and health service specialists.

New support services would also include academic shuttles between the middle and junior high schools to assist with transportation for extracurricular activities.

Parents and community members can attend the final proposal meeting at 7 p.m. tonight in the administration building at 1818 W. Worley St.

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