By JEFF DURBIN and JOHN WILKERSON, Missourian staff writers

January 12, 1999


Columbia voters will weigh their pocketbooks to see if they can afford more money for schools.

The Columbia Board of Education decided Monday to place a proposed property-tax increase of 58 cents per $100 of assessed value on the April ballot. The increase will pay for a $700 salary raise per district teacher and preserve the current pupil-teacher ratio of 19-to-1.

Superintendent James Ritter proposed the increase to narrow the salary gap between Columbia and the 12 other Missouri school districts of comparable size and quality and to boost various programs.

"We don't have options on how we raise funds," Ritter said. "Property taxes are the only thing we can consider."

All the board members said they wanted to see a tax hike on the April ballot, but the group split as to the amount of the increase. Chuck Headley, Don Schoengarth and Lynnanne Baumgardner supported the 58-cent raise. David Ballenger, Kerry Crist and Russe ll Still wanted to see a 63-cent increase.

Crist said she favored 63 cents because she didn't want to ask voters to raise property taxes again in the near future.

"If we're going to do it, let's do it right," Crist said.

Headley said he was for the increase, but 63 cents was too high. He also wanted to consider public opinion against the increase.

"You don't find answers on the corners, you find them in the middle," Headley said. "And I'm looking for the middle."

During the public comment period, citizens on both sides of the issue spoke strongly about the possibility of a tax hike.

Kim Stonecipher-Fisher, a candidate for school board in 1998, supports the tax increase but said if it is on the April ballot it will likely compete with other money requests such as a library expansion and a community recreation center.

"We strongly urge the board to consider the June ballot for the tax levy," Stonecipher-Fisher said.

Susan Roberts, 47, a homemaker, has children in the second and eighth grades. She said Columbia as a community is well off and has low property taxes compared to neighboring states.

"It's high time our teachers had at least a $1,000 raise," Roberts said. "Columbia used to be known as the place to be for teachers."

Tom and Marsha Sisson, teachers at West Junior High School and Smithton Middle School, both said Columbia has lost teachers because of low salaries.

Tom Sisson said a math teacher at West recently moved to St. Louis for better pay.

"The pay was $5,000 more in St. Louis," Marsha Sisson said.

While the tax would help bring up teacher salaries, others said it would create serious financial burdens.

Frank Edwards, 73, has not worked since 1980 and lives on social security and a Veterans Affairs pension. He receives a partial property-tax waiver under Missouri's circuit-breaker law but said it wasn't nearly enough.

"If my tax is raised, we're not going to be able to keep our house," Edwards said.

Billy Richards, 44, a carpenter, said he was outraged and has other things he'd like to spend his money on.

"Taxes are too high as it is," Richards said.

The issue will go before voters in April.