Tight School Revenue Picture Puts Levy On The Table

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COLUMBIA - Before district leaders met to discuss Columbia Public Schools' cutting $2 million from its budget Monday, Superintendent Chris Belcher recalled an analogy about the schools' funding situation.

"You get so focused on draining the swamp, you don't notice the alligators surrounding you," Belcher said.

Those 'alligators' are the impending lack of state funding Belcher says will leave the district with $12 million in revenue over the next three to four years. This funding pinch means for the first time since 2008, the option of a tax levy for the schools is back on the table — although there's no timetable for when the levy would go to the voters yet.

Belcher was set to lay out the options for levy amounts of 40-cent, 60-cent, and 80-cent increase in a presentation at Monday's board meeting. He says the presentation is meant to start a discussion about if and how a levy should appear on the ballot. 

"We're not in a crisis," Belcher said, but said the district plans cannot remain the same if the state funding situation doesn't improve.

Voters passed the last district ballot issue — a bond in 2010 which funded, among other things, the construction of Muriel Battle High School. The last levy the district put on the ballot, a 54-cent increase in 2008, failed. More than 60 percent of voters opposed the 2008 levy, a historically rare show of opposition to a school ballot issue.

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