The Columbia School Board’s budget hearings on Tuesday morning and night included discussions on the use of reserve funds to assist in paying for 70 new positions throughout the district, a $1,000 increase in teachers’ base pay and a nearly 9 percent increase in benefit costs for teachers and administration.
Phyllis Chase, superintendent of Columbia Public Schools, said budget proposal projections are based on student attendance.
“Student population drives the budget,” Chase said.
The projected daily attendance for the 2007-08 school year is 16,847 students per day at the district’s 28 schools, up from 16,336 for the 2006-07 school year. The budget calls for the addition of several positions to accommodate the increase in student population, including two new administrator positions at the secondary level. Chase said during the morning meeting that principals and administration play an important role in getting students to attend school, which has a direct relationship to the district’s revenues.
Because revenues do not cover all proposed expenses, the school board plans to dip into the reserve funds. The minimum balance for a reserve fund is 15 percent of budgeted expenses for the school year. The reserve balance is currently operating at nearly 10 percent over this minimum, but board members are aware that the reserve cannot be used to cover expenses in this way every year.
“We are taking a calculated risk that something is going to change in either our revenues or expenditures,” said Darin Preis, vice president of the board.
That something will have to change soon. Projections indicate that the reserve funds will be reduced to less than 9 percent of total budget expenses by June 30, 2009.
The board also discussed the $1.6 million in state funds that are currently used in “capital projects,” such as classroom trailer upgrades, new band instruments and service equipment. Many of these capital projects have been requested by school district staff, but it is difficult to balance requests with the limited amount of money available.
“We always have more requests than we have funds available,” board member Steve Calloway said during the evening session.
Though the hearings were open to the public, just one community member attended the morning session, while the evening meeting went unattended except for board members, some district staff and the press.
One time-sensitive issue the board addressed was filling the 70 new staff positions called for in the budget. Special consideration was given to “critical hires,” or harder-to-staff areas such as special education, math coaches and technology services. The board also focused on hiring additional personnel to help at-risk students.
“We plan on hiring outreach counselors at the higher levels to help with the substance abuse initiative,” said Lynn Barnett, assistant superintendent for student support services. “Any student support services will help those who would be at risk.”
New support services would also include academic shuttles between the middle and junior high schools.
“The academic shuttles will help students participate in extracurricular activities if transportation is a hindrance,” Barnett said.