Members of the Columbia Public School District Board of Education voted unanimously to place both a levy increase and a bond issue with a debt service increase before the voters on April 3.
A 40-cent levy increase is proposed for school district operations and would provide $8 million in local revenue. A $50 million bond issue will increase the debt service levy by 12 cents. The operation levy requires simple majority approval, and the bond issue requires a 57 percent majority approval.
The operational levy is needed to preserve current programs, maintain and improve class size and meet student and classroom technology needs. The district has reduced expenditures by $18.5 million over the last four years and eliminated more than 250 staff positions, while the student population has increased by 464 students during the same period. The reality is that state revenue is projected to have even more severe reductions in the near future. In addition, the local assessed valuation is nearly flat, and federal revenues also are likely to see reductions.
At a crossroad
The district is now at a crossroad. Reserves have been raised to allow for two years of planned deficit spending to open Battle High School and safeguard the district as state revenues dwindle. Radical reductions in services and programs would be required to maintain budget balances at a healthy level after next year.
A healthy balance is required to maintain a high financial credit rating as well as to keep cash balances at sufficient levels to deal with tax collection revenue cycles. A 16 percent reserve balance can cover two months of district operational expenses.
A $50 million bond issue is necessary to provide the capital needed for the 10-year facility plan. The 10-year plan calls for the elimination of costly and inefficient trailers by 2020. It also addresses the growth in our community. Since 2000, CPS enrollment has increased by more than 1,500 students, making it the eighth largest district in the state.
The debt service fund is used to pay the district’s bond issue debt. Capital obtained from bond issues, by law, can only be used for long-term construction and equipment. The opening of Battle High School and transitioning of grades 6 to 8 will create adequate space for all secondary programs and eliminate secondary school trailers.
Elementary schools will still have about 90 trailers used for classroom instruction. The trailers are aging and use significantly more energy and maintenance than brick and mortar buildings. The district is not able to get ahead of current student growth without an increase in the debt service fund.
The 10-year facility plan calls for the 2012 bond issue to build a new elementary school on the south side of Columbia and an early childhood center on the Lange Middle School property, provide classroom additions at Shepard and West Boulevard elementary schools to replace trailers, renovate the current district-owned transportation facility for environmental compliance, expand the kitchen at Lange Middle School, support classroom technology needs and other general maintenance items.
The 10-year plan also calls for another $50 million bond vote in April 2014 to build additional elementary schools and cafeteria/kitchen expansions. This would increase the debt service levy by an additional 8 cents. Long-term planning would then allow a no-tax-rate-increase bond issue every two years to manage and keep up with the facility issues in the district.
2010 bond issue
The $120 million bond issue from April 2010 is proceeding as planned. Battle High School will open in August 2013, construction for the new elementary school adjacent to the high school will begin in late 2013. Air conditioning for five elementary schools will be completed this summer. Work on air conditioning at Jefferson and West junior high schools will begin in 2013. The first-round of bids has been very competitive, and bonds are being sold at historically low interest rates. It has proven to be a cost effective time to build and finance.
The Board of Education has done an excellent job with managing decreasing revenues and increasing student population. Staff reduction and program elimination is never a popular, but is necessary to maintain a sound fiscal base. Given the current projections for drastic reductions in state revenue, the board is facing the difficult decision to continue the reduction in programs and staff or to put the facts in front of our community.
The state’s inability to support public schools has made this a local dilemma. Missouri ranks 49th in state funding for public education. CPS is a public school district, and it is the public who, ultimately, makes the decisions regarding staffing, programs and quality.
Our public information campaign is in full swing. We are willing to meet with any group to explain ballot items.
School elections represent the best of what a democracy offers. The community must engage in the discussion, demand evidence and explanation and then voice a position with a vote.