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“This Week” with guest Dr. Peter Stiepleman

The superintendent of Columbia Public Schools is making the rounds to get the word out about how to fund the future of the system and the students and families it serves.

Dr. Peter Stiepleman starts our conversation on “This Week,” explaining some possible plans.

Here is the transcript of our conversation:

Dr. Peter Stiepleman: Sure, I think what’s important to note is that there are two differences, right? A bond is to build something. And, so one of the things that our community has been pretty clear about is that the growth in the south of town has been extreme, and that we better have a plan for it as we look down the road ten years. And so we’re trying to think about is that there will never be land south of town available again, because, as you know, we’re just growing down there. So what we’re asking the community for its permission and no tax, but bond to purchase land, to design a middle school. And then we have other projects in terms of building onto elementary schools to get out of the trailer business. We made a promise to our community that we would get out of trailers.

Joey Parker: You had triple digits…

Dr. Peter Stiepleman: In 2009, that’s right, 2009 we had 167, and so…

Joey Parker: Now you’re down to double digits, right?

Dr. Peter Stiepleman: We’ll be down to 64 in the end of 2018. So, um, in order to continue with that, we don’t think we need to build another elementary school, but we think that we have the opportunity to build on to some of our schools to improve learning environment for kids. The levy, though, is a tax increase that we would be proposing. The board has to authorize it. So, um, at their upcoming board meeting they’re going to have a conversation about, ‘Do we move forward with the bond in-uh, with our levy increase?

Joey Parker: And you’re looking at something between 55 and 65 cents per whatever dollars assessed by you?

Dr. Peter Stiepleman: Yes, so what we’re asking for is the ability to end our plan deficit spending. When we opened up Battle High School we had a plan that we would build up reserves and then spend them down. Um, our bonding companies require that we keep, uh, reserves of 16 percent. Uh, the state of Missouri just says you need it above three percent before you get taken over by the state and considered insolvent, right? Well, in order to maintain and be able to pay our bills and make payroll, we actually have to keep it 13 percent. So we’re proposing, uh, anywhere between 18 and 20 percent reserves to keep that going. But if we keep spending at the rate we’re spending right now, just keeping the operations going as they are, uh, we’ll find ourselves at eight percent in five years. Well that’s not okay.

Joey Parker: Do you consider that crisis mode?

Dr. Peter Stiepleman: That would be absolute crisis if you’re in eight percent. You wouldn’t be able to make payroll, you would ha-you wouldn’t be able to meet your expenses, you’d be taking out loans from the bank, and paying interest on, on things that you wouldn’t need to do. So our goal is to end deficit spending, uh, and that does require a levy increase. We also want to be able to recruit and retain the very best teachers and employees, and so we’re asking for the ability to improve compensation for them.”

Joey Parker: As you talk about elementary schools, East Elementary, the, um, there’s an access issue. The Woodlands and Vineyards neighborhoods are already complaining, saying that they don’t want to see that increased. They want you as a neighbor…

Dr. Peter Stiepleman: That’s right. They want…

Joey Parker: But they just don’t want all the traffic.

Dr. Peter Stiepleman: That’s right. So, so what we’re trying to do is, is-we really are trying to listen and, and try to find a way to make this work. I think we will be able to in the end. Um, we’re working with the city. They’ve been a good partner with us. And we’re looking at, um, the Woodlands is asking for, if we had to connect, that it only be an emergency only. Uh, and for which we would agree with that. But we even think that we’re moving towards a better solution that really honors what the other neighbors are asking for as well. Uh, another…

Joey Parker: Access routes?

Dr. Peter Stiepleman: “-another access off of Rolling Hills in exchange for not having to build that road into the Woodlands. So if that’s true, right, and that’s something that we can work out with the city, and it doesn’t create a, a, uh, crazy increase to our budget, because we can’t add any more money to the budget, and so if it means that it adds money, it means that we have to take off of the project. So we’re working really, I mean, to this minute, you know, whenever this begins to air, whether it’s today, tomorrow, you’ll know that we’ve been working constantly with the city on trying to make a, one that really makes everyone a winner, right, but that everyone has each other’s back, and we’re trying to make it work.

Joey Parker: And we’re talking about half a million on the lowest end and even a couple million on the high end.

Dr. Peter Stiepleman: Well if we can exchange one road for the other then it may not be even a half million, and that would be tremendous.

Joey Parker: Alright. Now, one of the other concerns you have. You have almost two hundred, homeless students in the CPS, right?

Dr. Peter Stiepleman: And I think sometimes our community, and I know you’ve covered this, is that it’s not that every child is living on the street. It could be that you’re doubled up, that you’re living in a hotel or motel, you’re living in a shelter, um, but you don’t have a stable, fixed home. Um, so it could be, depending on the year and depending on the needs of the children, because if they don’t have insurance then we have to pay for medical supplies. Uh, if they don’t have, uh, food we pay for their, their food as well. Um, and transportation is really our biggest one. Recently I had an opportunity to talk at the local pachyderm’s club, and the, my biggest concern is when a child lives in the south of town, now has to relocate to the north, very far north of town, and our obligation to bus a child. We want children to have consistency, absolutely. The burden becomes on our budget. We will always try to make, uh, the best decision for a child, to provide consistency. Um, sometimes it becomes a challenge when, um, the distances and the time the child would have to get up to get to school, and those types of things, become a challenge for us.

Joey Parker: You’re climbing that mountain.

Dr. Peter Stiepleman: WE’RE doing it together, though.

Joey Parker: “Dr. Stiepleman, Thank you very much for joining us.

Dr. Peter Stiepleman: Thank you, I appreciate the time.

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