- Written by Mike Martin
COLUMBIA, 1/19/12 (Op Ed) -- In 2012 and again in 2014, Columbia Public Schools (CPS) will ask voters for bond debt totaling $100 million and one of the highest tax increases in recent memory, up roughly 12% from current levels. If the bonds pass, CPS will have indebted itself $325 million since 2002, with more tax increases to pay the debt certain to follow.
Compare this amount to the prior decade, 1992-2002, during which CPS built four schools and took on a fraction of the debt: $95 million.
All this expense will support a new subdivision adjacent to Battle High called Somerset Village.
Those are mighty pricey strings to attach to any sale, and could get pricier down the road in ways that are hard to predict. A second new elementary school is planned for the same area, also on land St. Charles Road Development -- named for the slender two-lane country road to both schools -- sold to CPS.
1994 -- $12.6 million bond, including $7.5 million to build Smithton Middle School.
1996 -- $12.75 million bond, including $8.3 million to build Lange Middle School.
1998 -- $19.9 million bond including $7.8 million to expand and renovate Rock Bridge HS.
2000 -- $35 million bond, including $10.7 million to build Paxton-Keeley Elementary School.
"No item of the bond issue has garnered more discussion than the high school, especially the building’s $75 million price tag," the Trib reported in March 2010, just before Columbia's vote on the largest school bond issue in state history: $120 million. "Segert consistently has argued in long-range committee meetings that the high school’s price should be lower."
Earning the nickname "Rolls Royce," "Cadillac" and "Taj Mahal," Battle High quickly became a poster child for the feeding frenzy a seemingly unlimited pool of taxes and bond debt can spark. Is it "all about the children," as our leaders want us to believe? Or -- with the constant threat of cuts to programs and people that help children -- is it really all about the pocketbooks of the development industry?
Absolutely our children deserve the best places possible to learn. But the history of these skyrocketing costs -- and how work has lagged on older schools in basic areas like air conditioning -- suggests something else is driving up the prices, something that has nothing to do with quality and everything to do with good old-fashioned greed.
Greed may be good on Wall Street, but it's no good on St. Charles Road.