"Debt or Decay?" school administrators asked a decade ago, to push $24 million in debt
COLUMBIA, 2/9/12  (Beat Byte) --  "Columbia school administrators have turned their attention to improving older schools." 

That was the lead in a Columbia Daily Tribune story -- the longest of roughly a dozen -- about a $23.8 million bond proposal voters passed in 2002.   "The Columbia school district wants voters to approve a $23.8 million bond issue to fund improvements for the city's aging schools," the story explained.  "District officials say the issue comes down to a simple choice:  Debt or Decay?"   
Columbia Public Schools leadership had adopted a "new focus" after a decade building new schools like Paxton-Keeley Elementary.  District officials were planning to spend millions fixing up the old, mostly neighborhood schools that in recent years have become a favorite hardball in the sales pitch for higher taxes and bond debt. 
Now, a decade and $225 million in bond debt later, CPS officials are talking the same talk:  they need $50 million this year and $50 million again in 2014 to pay for projects from classroom trailer elimination to long-overdue air conditioning.  
Part of their conundrum:  the district has spent so much money building just two new schools since 2002 -- Battle High and Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary -- that little money is left for projects, like air conditioning, that have lingered for years.   Six million dollars flew out the door in an instant just for land acquisition and early infrastructure costs district officials say they never anticipated. 

Photos in the 2002 Trib story show busted lockers, warped floors, crowded cafeterias, and water filling trash buckets from a leaking roof. 
As always, school board members weighed in, with observations so obvious they were almost trite.  "I think we need to understand we have to pay for education, and education is expensive," David Ballenger said.  "Somebody paid for education for us and our children, and now it is time for us to do so."
Board member Karla Despain stepped forward with a promise clearly implied.  "Grant, Lee, Jefferson Junior -- the community would not look kindly if we let those go," she said.  "If we want to continue to use them, they have to be kept up to standards."
Ten years later, the same discussion has returned as the district seeks to finance $100 million in two years with a host of higher taxes.