Columbia Public Schools Prepare for Financial Crunch

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COLUMBIA - Columbia Public School (CPS) officials met with around 100 citizens Wednesday night to discuss the financial future of the district. Officials have said CPS is at "a fork in the road" - it's been preparing for tight financial times by building its available balance over the last three or four years, but the time will come when CPS will need to figure out a new way to generate revenue.

That's because $5.6 million of state funding has been cut or withheld over the last two years, all while enrollment continues to rise, up 2.5% over the past four years.

CPS presented four scenarios to the public - each entailed a combination of operating tax levies and bond issues. Tax levies provide funds for salaries and benefits, while bond issues provide funds strictly for construction and renovation, not for salaries and operating expenses.

CPS Superintendent Dr. Chris Belcher said work needs to be done, but there's no need to panic.

"We're not in an emergency. That's why we're having this conversation now," Belcher said.

Some attendees expressed concern that any proposed tax levies would be difficult to pass because 80 percent of Columbia's households do not have children.

CPS officials will use input from tonight's meeting to continue work on a plan moving forward.

For the public to vote on a proposed tax levy or bond issue in April 2012, CPS will need to add it to the ballot by January.

The CPS presentation can be found here.

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