Positive community survey results highlighted the Columbia School Board’s second regular session meeting of 2020. Concerns for students with special needs — specifically recording policies, seclusion rooms and Catapult Learning — came up during public comment.

2019 phone survey results

Respondents rated Columbia Public Schools favorably in a late 2019 phone survey, according to a report discussed at Monday’s meeting.

The phone survey is conducted every other year by ExcellenceK12, an independent organization contracted by the district, according to the report. The surveys line up with years that include bond issue votes, Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said at the meeting.

“Your numbers are so good, I don’t really know what to tell you to fix,” Rick Nobles, president of ExcellenceK12, said at the meeting.

ExcellenceK12 conducted phone surveys with “400 head-of-household, registered voters who live within the boundaries of the district,” according to the report. The city was split into four geographical sections, with Providence Road dividing east and west, and Broadway dividing north and south. The company surveyed 100 people from each quadrant.

On 18 factors, respondents ranked the district on a five-point weighted scale, where A earned a score of 5.0, and an F earned zero.

The district scored well overall; 62% of respondents gave the district an overall grade of B. This averaged to 4.12 points, a 0.05 increase from 2017.

“To see these kinds of results is really encouraging,” Stiepleman said, adding “it would be impossible to get an A.”

Student safety and quality of school facilities earned the highest ratings with 4.51 and 4.45, respectively.

The lowest-ranked factor was “performance of the district and Board of Education,” with a score of 3.78.

In addition to the 18 graded factors, respondents were asked open-ended questions regarding the district’s strengths and areas for improvement.

The most often-cited strength of the district was strong curriculum and academics, mentioned by 20.75% of respondents.

When asked for areas in which the district could improve, 23.25% of respondents said they didn’t know.

One respondent said the district “needs to develop a way of working with minority students and students living at the poverty level,” as “many struggle with grades.” According to test data released in 2019 from the previous school year for Columbia Public Schools, 55.1% of white, non-Hispanic students scored in the “proficient” or “advanced” category of mathematics tests, compared to only 12.4% of black students, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Finance update

Heather McArthur, the district’s chief financial officer, presented a finance update for the current school year, projecting current revenue and its sources. There was an increase of $2.5 million compared to the preliminary estimate of total property tax revenue.

Of that revenue, 64.12% comes from local sources, such as property taxes and the Prop C sales tax. Almost 31% comes from state funding, mainly the Missouri Foundation Formula.

The costs to open the new John Warner Middle School are expected to bring deficits, which are reflected in the district’s five-year model.

“It’s not just one-time needs that we have for furniture ... but recurring days where we’re going to add multiple employees,” McArthur said. “We had built up our fund balance, knowing that we’re going to start deficit spending when the middle school opens next fall.”

The board’s March 9 meeting will finalize expectations for next year’s revenues, consider the expenditures made available and consider the district’s budgeting.

Public comment

Emery Wakefield, a Rock Bridge High School senior and digital media studio student at the Columbia Area Career Center, recommended during public comment that the district use MP3 formats if they were to record Individualized Education Program meetings “because [MP3s] take up the least amount of space, but still preserve quality.”

Wakefield said the Columbia Public Schools technology team proposed a petabyte of audio storage, “which seems like an overkill estimate,” Wakefield said.

Two people addressed the district’s contract with Catapult Learning, an organization that operates special education classrooms within the district. Robyn Schelp and Lara Wakefield both expressed concerns that the contract does not require certification for teachers to be employed.

“They seem to say that they are in control without any oversight, and that’s a significant concern,” Lara Wakefield said.

Joy Wilson recommended the district talk to a private consultant in trauma-informed training regarding seclusion room use at the Center of Responsive Education, where Catapult Learning operates.

In other news

  • The board plans to create a work group to review current legislation and suggested language regarding who can volunteer at schools. The work group will be internally operated at first, but may open up to external participation, according to Stiepleman.
  • Oakland Middle School math teacher Melissa Fike was recognized for winning a Milken Educator Award. Fike’s win was announced Jan. 10 during an assembly at Oakland. Jennifer Rukstad, the district’s assistant superintendent for secondary education, described Fike as “zany, funny, tough but fair,” during the meeting, adding that “Fike is one of the first teachers students return to visit after graduation.”
  • Education reporter, spring 2020 Studying photojournalism Reach me at ejrxch@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

  • Education reporter, spring 2020 Studying magazine journalism Reach me at evanmusil@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5700

  • Elizabeth Brixey is a city editor at the Columbia Missourian. She oversees coverage of education. She can be reached at (573) 882-2632 and brixeye@missouri.edu.

  • Hi! I am an Assistant City Editor for the education beat, which means I help with breaking news and all things K-12 or higher education. Any tips or story ideas can be sent to me at hlht46@mail.missouri.edu or in the newsroom at 882-5720.

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