School, city, county officials agree to more frequent collaboration

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 | 6:40 p.m. CDT; updated 10:45 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — City, county and school district staff members plan to start meeting monthly to increase collaboration. That was one outcome of a meeting early Wednesday of the Columbia School Board, the City Council and Boone County commissioners.

Previously, school board members and city officials met twice a year, but they agreed that stepping up communication is essential.

“At this point, meeting two times is not enough,” said School Board President Karla DeSpain. “Our schools are in a growth pattern and the infrastructure of the entire district is changing.”

The level of collaboration has received scrutiny in recent months as the board and district debate where to build the next public high school.

Mayor Darwin Hindman said at the meeting that ensuring the public knows about their collaboration is key in being transparent with the citizens of Columbia.

“Unless we meet and the press sees it, there’s the assumption that we don’t meet,” Hindman said.

“The better we communicate, the better we put criticism to rest,” said Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade.

After the idea of meeting monthly was discussed between schools Superintendent Phyllis Chase and DeSpain, Chase received a phone call from City Manager Bill Watkins who had the same idea. The county commission will also participate.

Watkins said they will meet again within the next 30 days.

At the meeting, city and school officials said increased communication will benefit the community as a whole.

“Forming partnerships is really important,” Boone County Commissioner Skip Elkin said. “Let’s meet often and plan and move forward together.”

Hindman also pointed out the important role the school district plays in the community.

“Let’s truly make it a joint effort,” he said. “There’s nothing more fundamental than education that we can invest in.”

City and school officials also discussed developments in the design process of the next public elementary school.

Jack Jensen, assistant superintendent for elementary education, said the DLR group is in the design phase and architects have met with a district construction committee that has been looking at schools.

Bid documents will soon be drawn up and will go before the school board for approval in January 2008. Construction is expected to begin in March and to end in June 2009, with the new school opening in time for the 2009-10 school year.

How Cosmopolitan Park and the Boone County Fairgrounds are being used also came up. The consensus of the group was that both are seen as assets to the community as they are now and they wouldn’t make good locations for a school. That suggestion arose during the communitywide discussion on where to build the new high school.

Late Tuesday, a committee charged with evaluating sites for the school gave top ranking to 80 acres known as the St. Charles Road Development in northern Columbia. The final decision, expected next month, is up to the Columbia School Board.

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