CPS introduces bond and levy plans ahead of April ballot

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COLUMBIA - Voters have about a month until they can vote on whether to approve a $30 million no-tax increase bond, as well as an operating levy for Columbia Public Schools.

CPS superintendent Peter Stiepleman presented both issues before a candidate forum the Columbia Chamber of Commerce held Monday night.

Stiepleman said the no-tax increase bond allows CPS to buy land for a new middle school or build an addition to another elementary school and take care of the facility needs. He also said there would be a 65 cent increase for every $100 in assessed value. CPS said this would bring in $14.6 million of continued revenue for the school district.

"Why we're asking for that is because it's more expensive to educate children in our community, and also because the state is cutting taxes," Stiepleman said. "Essentially what they are doing is pushing an increase of taxes to the local level."

Stiepleman provided an example of the state's formula.

"We're entitled $6,808 for every child. However, because of the deficient funding and because of the inability to actually fund the foundation formula, we're getting $6,108," he said.

Stiepleman said when multiplying the difference by nearly 18,000 students, it adds up to a lot of money.

"If the state actually funded us what they said they would, we wouldn't need to ask the community for any money," Stiepleman said.

Stiepleman said CPS needs the community's support to recruit and retain great employees, and take care of some the students' needs including a career center and English language learners.

"Children whose first language is not English used to be the children of visiting scholars from South Korea, from China. And now there are children that come from refugee camps. So we see an increase in need," Stiepleman said.

Jerry Dowell, the director of government affairs for the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said the increased levy would relieve the stress for the school district.

"We've got the growth in the number of kids in public schools so we need additional school buildings, but also we need to take into account people we need like teachers or other people for that," Dowell said.

Stiepleman said more than 90 percent of kids in Columbia go to public schools.

"The community with the best schools wins. We believe that it's absolutely tied to the economic success in our community to have great public schools," Stiepleman said.

The CPS plan will be on the April 5 ballot.