By JEFF DURBIN, Missourian staff writer

January 10, 1999


The Columbia Board of Education appears ready to put a property-tax increase on the April ballot.

At Monday's meeting, which will be at 5:30 p.m. instead of the originally scheduled 7 p.m., the board will discuss a tax increase in the neighborhood of 58 to 63 cents per $100 assessed value. The board is free to decide any amount, however. A 63-cent increase would raise homeowner's taxes by about 12 percent, said Boone County Assessor Tom Schauwecker.

Superintendent James Ritter, who proposed the property-tax increase at the December meeting, said teacher salaries in Columbia are not competitive with similar districts. He suggested a raise of $700-1,000, saying Columbia's livability is not grounds to pay less.

"We want to be able to attract the very best teachers in the state," Ritter said. "$1,000 will not catch us up, but it will move us in the right direction."

Henry Lane of Citizens for Lower Taxes, who also is a candidate for school board, said teacher salaries are above the state average.

"There's no competitive reason to be giving a raise," he said.

"The taxpayers cannot afford a tax raise of this size," Lane added. "Property taxes are a burden for a lot of people."

Nationwide, the average teacher salary last year was $40,133. Columbia teachers averaged $35,907, higher than the state average. Ritter said more than 300 of Missouri's 525 districts have fewer than 1,000 students, and many of those pay salaries near or at the $18,000 minimum. Because of this, Columbia compares itself with 12 districts of about the same size and quality.

Board member Lynnanne Baumgardner said a tax increase deserves a great deal of thought, but the budget clearly indicates a need for more money to avoid cutting entire programs.

"If you eliminate your expense for groceries, you'll save money, but you'll be very hungry," Baumgardner said. "Each principal, each curriculum coordinator, each coach is a budget manager making decisions about how to squeeze the money."

Board member Russell Still supports a 63-cent increase, to a level that would roughly equal the tax levy of 15 years ago.

"We definitely need the revenue," Still said. "The more kids come, the more teachers we need."

Board member Chuck Headley will wait until the meeting to decide. He said teachers need to be paid well.

"We do not pay as well as other districts of our size in the state," Headley said.

The school district is expected to be $3.5 million over budget by the end of the school year.

Lane's organization would rather see the district make cuts in bond debt, school construction, staffing, salaries and support services, among other areas.

"What they need is better management of the money they already have," Lane said.

Board members see little or no waste in the budget. Teacher salaries and personnel costs are 83 percent of the budget. In the last few years more than 300 students entered Columbia schools annually. Next year 150 new students are expected.

It might be possible to save money by contracting out custodial or food services, but that doesn't ensure equal value, Ritter said.

The school board will also refinance an outstanding $1.8 million bond from 1992. Bids are due in the morning and the board will be presented with the best bid at the meeting.

The board will meet at the District Administration Building, 1818 W. Worley St. There will be opportunity for public comment.