TARGET 8: State funding gaps leave holes in school budgets

Related Story

COLUMBIA – The Columbia Public school system is under-funded by $12.6 million, provoking a levy increase from the community.

On the April 5 ballot, Columbia residents will vote on an operating levy increase of 65-cents per $100 of assessed valuation of homes and businesses.

If passed, the levy increase would provide the school system with just over $14.6 million.

Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Peter Stiepleman said it’s necessary to fill the hole left by under-funding.

He said, using the state's Foundation Formula, $6,808 per student is needed in order to properly educate CPS students. The Missouri budget is only giving the district enough money for $6,108 per student.

“If, in fact, we got $6,808 for every child that is our public schools, we wouldn’t be asking the community for any increase to the levy,” Stiepleman said. “When the state cuts taxes at the state level, they are essentially pushing it onto the local community to raise their own.”

Gov. Jay Nixon’s called for adding $76 million to the education budget but it was cut back to $16 million during the budgeting process.

According to Stiepleman, that would only leave CPS about $31,000 after the state distributes the money to Missouri’s 534 school districts.

“This is nothing new,” he said. “This is a formula that was flawed from the beginning and had disadvantaged Columbia to some extremes.”

CPS enrollment increased every year from 2011 to 2015 while federal support dropped from 12.1% in 2011 to 6.29% in 2015.

Stiepleman said the drop in funding is why the district needs to go to its families for support.

“Everything is pointing down in terms of revenue for our district, which is why we’re asking the local community for their investment,” he said.

The levy goes toward:

  • Maintaining operations and halting planned deficit spending
  • Operating new buildings, including utility costs, transportation and staff
  • Funding homeless student transportation and federal nutrition requirements
  • Recruiting and retaining employees

 

The district keeps about two months worth of bills in its district reserves, or savings account. A month’s worth of bills for CPS is $16 million. In 2015, the district had $48.11 million in its reserves.

CPS is also asking for a $30 million bond to build and maintain its facilities.

$20 million will go toward new construction.

  • $6 million will be used to buy land for a new middle school in south Columbia
  • $11 million for elementary school additions to eliminate trailers
  • $3 million to expand the kitchen at Gentry Middle School

 

$8 million will go toward building improvements.

  • $5 million for improvements in safety and security, renovations and repair
  • $2 million for roof replacements and repairs
  • $1 million for improvements in outdoor athletic facilities at Gentry, Lange and Smithton middle schools

 

$2 million will go toward technology improvements.

  • Wireless network expansion and replacement of network switches, servers and storage area networks

Also feeling the heat of under-funding is Cole County R-V in Eugene, Missouri. 

In 2015, its enrollment was much smaller than Columbia, 615 vs. about 18,000, and it has gotten smaller every year since 2011. 

More than half of its revenue is generated locally at 55.27% in 2015, the highest rate in five years.

Cole County R-V Superintendent Dawna Burrow said it’s difficult to ask a small community for more money because it heavily relies on federal and state funds.

“It’s very hard to go to them and say the district needs more money from you when they are basically using every dime they have to exist and survive and provide anything for their families,” Burrow said.

She said some of the first things to go when there isn’t enough funding are teacher benefits and raises. She said cutting those is something she may have to “consider in the very near future.”

In 2010, the average teacher salary, average teacher experience and percentage of teachers with Masters degrees went down because veteran teachers retired, Burrow said.

She said the community could expect something similar to happen next year because three elementary teachers are retiring this year.

“In place of those three people retiring, they have 30+ years, we will hire individuals who are either new to teaching or have one or two years, as much as 10 maybe, but at least not 30,” Burrow said.

She said the district doesn't offer teachers any incentive to retire, but it saves the district money by hiring teachers with less experience. 

Check to see how much of your school district's budget is funded through local communities:

News