Bond issue, levy take election center stage

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Jenna Liu

Tomorrow, Columbia citizens will be voting on a levy increase that would cause Columbia Public Schools to have one of the highest tax levies in the state, at $6.1156 per $100 of assessed valuation. Another question on the ballot involves a $30 million, no-tax increase bond, which would be used to purchase land for a new middle school.
The levy increase would raise property taxes by 65 cents, a more controversial proposition. Of the money, 31 cents would be directed at raising teacher salaries, enticing good teachers to remain with CPS. A further 31 cents are intended to help end deficit spending, while the remaining 4 cents are reserved for student support, particularly with English Language Learner programs and career course development.
Junior Sam Baumer said that he does not support the levy increase because he has personally observed examples of wasteful operational spending in the district.
“I know the CPS [Information Technology] department owns three Google Glass, which is $1,500 apiece and they paid full price for all of those and there’s no way that they will be benefitting anyone’s education,” Baumer said. “It’s not like students are eventually going to be using them; it’s unnecessary.”
While some voters may also balk at the increase in their property taxes, CPS communications director Michelle Baumstark said that the additional money is necessary in order for the district to operate and grow.
“We wouldn’t be asking for [the money] if we didn’t have a need for it. We certainly don’t take lightly the consideration of our taxpayers and our community,” Baumstark said. “ We want them to know that an investment in the public school system is a good investment.  We are transparent with our operations and have worked very hard to develop a long-term plan.”
One of the reasons why CPS is pushing for the levy increase is the benefits it would bring to district employees. As the seventh largest district in the state, CPS lags behind similar-sized districts in terms of teacher pay, a gap that Baumstark hopes will shrink with the levy increase.
“Our teachers have not seen an increase to their base salaries in eight years so we would be looking across the board, not just for teachers, and it would amount to roughly a five percent increase,” Baumstark said. “When teachers come to us, maybe they’ve graduated from Mizzou, they’ve done their student teaching here; we train them, they stay for a year and get the experience and then they go to another district that can offer more money. We don’t want to continue to be the farm district for recruiting high quality teachers, only to have them leave and go to other districts.”
The fear of wasted funds and wariness of any increase in taxes could still cause voters to vote against the levy increase proposition. Baumer said that he believes the district should re-evaluate how they spend money instead of advocating for the levy increase.
“I know there is already a lot of waste in CPS so I think instead of asking for more money, they should better use their money,” Baumer said. “ If it was going towards teachers having better medical insurance, then maybe, but it depends on where the money is being spent.”
While the bond money may seem like an alternative source of funds from which to derive salary improvements, the district is prohibited by law from using bond money for operations. Instead, the bond, which essentially allows CPS to take on more debt after paying off old debt, will be used to alleviate the overflow of students at middle schools like Gentry Middle School, which holds certain classes in 13 outdoor trailers.
Should the bond pass, CPS would continue their plan to significantly decrease the number of trailers across the district, from 164 trailers in 2009-10 to a goal of 67 trailers in the 2017-18 school year.
This attempt to slowly eliminate trailers is one part of several requests by the community, requests that district leaders have been trying to fulfill.
“When we went out to our community back in the fall and asked them what it was they wanted the school district to do, shared with them where we were as a district with some of our financial needs, at that point in time the community said overwhelmingly, ‘Ask for what you need and then don’t come back,” Baumstark said. “So that’s what this request is about. We’re asking for what we need with the intention of not coming back to the community for a while.”