A disturbing 2010 Trib story points to big trouble aheadCOLUMBIA, 4/2/12 (Beat Byte) -- After a severe brow-beating, a rushed Columbia School Board approves a huge project with less than 24 hours notice as Boone County administrators warn about enormous, unbudgeted costs around Battle High School, sold to the district by a development group that is now building subdivisions next door."The approval meeting lasted just 28 minutes before board member Christine King presented a motion to accept the deal...No district residents were in attendance...The contract could saddle the district with as much as $2.9 million in costs that were not budgeted..."
That tale was told in a disturbing 2010 Columbia Daily Tribune story that partly confirmed what this writer heard from other sources.At least one Boone County administrator, those sources say, told school district officials they were facing "at least $50 million in infrastructure costs" to accomodate Battle High and the new elementary school planned next to it. "Unless you can get funding to do all this, you need to select a different site," he reportedly advised.Though unspoken, paying for this infrastructure is a phantom menace at CPS, and may partly motivate the enormous spike in bond debt and the property taxes. A confrontation between CPS Superintendent Chris Belcher and Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid just last month suggests the problem has been festering for years."Stretched to the limit"In 2007 and 2010, voters approved $180 million in new bond debt for Columbia Public Schools (CPS), now asking for another $100 million on Tuesday and in 2014.As they are today, in 2007 CPS administrators cited student enrollment growth; classroom trailer reduction; and air conditioning for older schools (in 2007, only four of Columbia's 19 elementary schools were air conditioned).
The Trib ran its perfunctory centerpiece pitch, a plea to upgrade athletic facilities "stretched to the limit."In 2010, vast new developments CPS will catalyze became the center of attention, but many of the expensive details got lost in the haste to push approval of the $80 million Battle High School. The most expensive lost detail may be the most important: lack of funds for road construction and other infrastructure way out there in the boondocks.The battle over BattleThe Battle High infrastructure problem burst onto the public scene in March with meetings between MoDOT; Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid; and Boone County Commissioners.The leaders openly wondered who would pay to accomodate the high school; a second elementary school planned next door; and at least two new subdivisions nestled around the schools from big-time developers Scott Atkins, Tom Atkins, Rob Wolverton, Bob Pugh, the Lemone Family Trust, and Tom Mendenhall."McDavid said the city and Boone County governments did not have a say in where the schools are being constructed," the Tribune reported.CPS Superintendent Chris Belcher lashed out at the Mayor over the comments. "Misinformation is harmful to the district's reputation and community trust," Dr. Belcher fired back.But city and county officials warned Dr. Belcher about lack of road funding back in 2010. He, in turn, explained that “once you start putting students through there, you will need stoplights and turn lanes.”With Boone County Commissioner Karen Miller and then-Columbia city manager Bill Watkins, Belcher also discussed "additional growth," around the new schools, "which will require increased infrastructure in the surrounding area."How the funds will materialize has prompted talk that bond proceeds may quietly find their way toward projects voters never intended: roads, sewers, lighting, sidewalks, and other basics, much of which ought to be paid for by developers using the schools to catalyze their projects.Based on past budget shenanigans at CPS, these concerns are not without merit.RELATED: