COLUMBIA — Community members with shell-shocked eyes and parents with weary faces listened with astonishment as Columbia Schools Superintendent Greg Bansek used blunt words to describe what would happen to the district if voters failed to pass the upcoming November levy.
On the heels of a May failure and after four years of continuous cost cutting to the tune of more than $3 million, Bansek told a crowd of 150 people that without the infusion of cash the district would be one year away from state takeover.
“I will tell you Nov. 5 is the most important day in the history of this district, hands down,” he said. “That is the day this district will change one way or another.”
Should the levy pass, the district will not see any additional cuts.
“I know everyone wants to look at this issue and say if we pass it how much money will we have to bring back everything we have lost, but we can’t forget we also borrowed $650,000 last year just to stay in the black. School districts aren’t supposed to do that,” said board member Steven Moore. “So there will be no more cuts, but we will have to pay that money back and try to start saving something, too.”
But failure — Bansek barely wanted to say the word — will mean more drastic cuts, the kind parents likely will react to by removing their children from the district.
“If the levy fails, I will have maybe $400,000 left to cut and it will not be enough,” he said. “We will not be able to make our budget.”
At stake is the loss of busing for elementary and middle school students inside the state minimum of 2 miles, the elimination of all sports and extracurricular activities, including marching band, and the increase of student fees. Outside groups will not be able to use school facilities, as well.
“We want to make our schools community centers, but we’re already having trouble getting buildings cleaned and lawns mowed at this time,” Bansek said.
The cuts, which would take the district to near state minimum standards, would come about because of a history that includes multiple levy failures, years of cuts from the state coupled with a new state budget that offers no relief and thousands of dollars leaving the district as students seek charter school alternatives. It was 2003 when voters in Columbia last passed a tax issue for operating money.
Bansek said the district has coped — staving off state takeover year after year — by cutting the district to the bone. The consequences are felt daily by students.
High school students only have four elective courses and district officials have slashed graduation requirements to reflect the limited offerings. Many high school students have two study halls because of fewer options.
After laying out a stark plan for the future, Bansek implored those in attendance to do the one thing the district needed more than anything — vote for the upcoming levy.
“Other schools that pass their levies are moving forward and we are just gasping for air,” he said.
Parents, many of whom wore T-shirts in support of their financially strapped district, peppered Bansek and board members with questions about what they could do not just with this levy, but also in the future to convince lawmakers to send more money Columbia’s way.
In reply, board president Brenda Buchanan said to keep the pressure on Columbus legislators while also showing local support.
“The personal perspective of how this issue affects you is hard to argue with,” she said. “Maybe those are the arguments that will get through to someone to help them understand we have done all we can do.”
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If the levy fails:
- State minimum busing outside of 2 miles — effective Jan. 15.
- All sport and extracurricular activities eliminated for 2014-15 school year.
- Elimination of assistant principal and athletic director for the 2014-15 school year.
- Elimination of the assistant to the treasurer for the 2014-15 school year.
- Elimination of kindergarten through fourth-grade music starting with the 2014-15 school year.
- Elimination of band class and marching band for the 2014-15 school year.
- Combine Copopa Elementary and Columbia Middle schools’ guidance counselors into a K-8 position.
- Student district fee to increase to $75 for the 2014-15 school year.
- No use of facilities by outside groups effective Jan. 15.
- All buildings will close a half hour after school starting with the 2014-15 school year.
- Senior citizen breakfasts will be canceled.
If the levy passes:
- Evaluate all elective courses with plans to bring back two or three for the 2014-15 school year.
- Reinstate gifted program at Copopa Elementary and Columbia Middle schools.
- All custodial, maintenance, mechanic and special education secretary staff returned to eight hours effective immediately.
- Return of limited high school busing effective Jan. 15.
- Immediate addition of two lunch monitors at Copopa Elementary and Columbia Middle schools.
- Immediate return of seasonal maintenance.
- Return of some extracurricular and co-curricular activities for the 2014-15 school year.
- Immediate return of outdoor education, C-squad and freshmen boys basketball.
- Immediate return of district mail courier.
- Pay to participate for athletics and band reduced to $150 with no family cap starting with the 2014-15 school year.
- Immediate free use of buildings by community groups during regular custodial hours.
- District student fee to remain $50.