Board of Education approves increase in operating tax rate ceiling

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Public Schools Board of Education unanimously approved a 9-cent increase in the operating tax rate ceiling Monday.

The Board increased the ceiling from 56 cents to 65 cents, the maximum amount approved by voters in the April 2016 municipal election.

CPS Interim Chief Financial Officer Heather McArthur said the hike would represent an increase of about $35 in property tax for the average household, valued at about $195,000 in Boone County.

CPS Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said the school district had already planned for the tax hike, after the board adopted a voluntary reduction in the tax rate from what voters approved. 

"In 2016, we asked the voters to increase their taxes by 65 cents, and what they said to us was, ask for what you need and then don't come back for a while," Stiepleman said.

After the election, CPS didn't think it needed to use the entire tax increase right away. But Stiepleman said, with a new middle school opening in 2020, and increases in increases in teacher salaries, the district decided the extra 9 cents is needed now.

The increase would produce an estimated $2,218,453 in additional revenue in the operating funds in the current year for the school district.

Stiepleman said all of those funds would go into the "teacher fund," which pays for teachers' salaries and benefits.

"It allows us to make good in our promise, in term of a compensation plan," he said. "The compensation plan was made with the teachers and the administration, and the board, to have a starting salary of $40,000 and an ending salary of $80,000 in terms of a career. This allows us to take one more step in that direction."

According to McArthur, 64 percent of the funding for Columbia Public Schools comes from local sources. Out of that amount, 55 percent is revenue obtained from property tax.

Stiepleman said the heavy reliance of the district on local sources of revenue requires it to respond to the community's interests and needs.

"More than anything, it is their schools," he said. "What was super important is that we continue to communicate the promises we've made and how we're living up to those promises. We have great trust with our community. Last year 83 percent of the community approved our bond, that's huge faith in what we're trying to accomplish together."

The Board of Education will hold a public hearing at its next meeting on Aug. 23 to decide on the actual operating tax rate for this year. The board will then vote, next month, to approve that rate.