Columbia Board of Education discusses new tax levy

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Board of Education discussed a tax levy and a bond proposal at its meeting on Thursday morning.

The group presented changes to its plan that include a $30 million bond to maintain and expand schools and district facilities as opposed to the $35 million bond in its original plan. The main focus of the bond is to help find land and develop plans for the districts new middle school set to be built in southern Columbia. 

However, the bulk of the discussion focused on the tax levy. 

Board member Paul Cushing said the group was deciding between a proposed 55 cent tax versus a 65 cent tax. CPS's Michelle Baumstark said the board settled on 65 cents. 

The 65 cent levy would mean homeowners paying an additional nearly $125 a year, per $100,000 of assessed property value.

The money would go toward managing and maintaining the current budget, as well as improving salaries for staff members. 

"We have fallen way behind in paying teachers what they should be paid," Cushing said. "They haven't received a cost-of-living adjustment since 2008."

Cushing and Baumstark said CPS staff members only receive a 1-1.5 percent increase in salaries per year to meet inflation, but Cushing said it isn't enough.

"What we're doing right now is not even close to the inflation index," he said.

Baumstark said the district has about 2500 employees with nearly 1,400 of them being teachers. She said the district has had problems offering a competitive salary and the new proposal would be a step in the right direction. 

The third project supported by the proposed tax levy is the district's Achievement Enrichment Opportunity program, which helps students receive what Baumstark calls "equal access" to resources and opportunities. 

Baumstark said the district cannot afford to keep the current spending plan it has now. 

The proposed tax levy would help keep the district from having to ask for more tax dollars for another five years, Cushing said.

"Obviously we can't definitively say what will happen," Cushing said. "We are hoping, though, that with the 65-cent tax, we won't have to ask the taxpayers for anything more until we get ready to open our new middle school, which isn't set to happen until 2022.

Cushing said he knows 65 cents is a big ask, but that it would be "awesome" for schools and faculty. 

The board will meet again in December for what Baumstark called "important conversation" concerning the next steps.