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Hayes fills board vacancy, CPS to add over 20 new positions

Karen Hayes was appointed to fill the vacant spot on the Columbia School Board in a special session Wednesday evening.

Thirteen people applied for the vacancy before the School Board voted in a special session Monday to narrow the field to Andrea Lisenby, Karen Hayes and Jan Mees. After a group interview Wednesday, the board selected Hayes in a 5-to-1 vote.

Each interviewee gave an opening statement before being asked two pre-set questions:

  • How would you contribute as a board member to ensuring all scholars receive a quality education?
  • What are ways the board can strengthen their governance of the school district and how would you contribute?

Mees said all scholars receiving quality education has been one of the district’s goals for the past 150 years.

“As a board member, I would immerse myself to prepare for each board and committee meeting in reviewing all documents thoroughly,” Mees said. “Every decision I make as a board member would be to meet the mission that all scholars receive a quality education.”

Lisenby said she is a parent of a child with special needs and has spent the past nine years navigating the special education system and the individualized educational plan, or IEP, process.

“I know firsthand how intimidating and confusing that process is,” Lisenby said. “I would like to give (those families) a voice.”

Hayes said there are wonderful teachers in the district, but they aren’t spread out evenly among the schools.

“For me, that would be a key piece,” Hayes said, “to really look at who are our board-certified teachers, who are our master teachers, where are they and where are the needs at for students to achieve.”

Lisenby said she is a fast learner and is familiar with the Continuous School Improvement Plan and the recent district audit on special education.

“I’m fully committed to every student receiving excellent education,” Lisenby said. “I believe in celebrating the uniqueness of each of those students.”

Hayes said that in the allotted time of the vacant position, governance could not be switched quickly.

She said she would want to talk to the current board about the governance structure and if it’s working for what they hope to achieve.

“If it is, then let’s look at how we can tighten up areas,” Hayes said.

Mees said there have been multiple studies that show student academic success begins in the board room.

“The board cannot work in a vacuum,” she said. “All stakeholders need to be involved, never forgetting the scholar, who is our primary customer.”

Then, Lisenby, Hayes and Mees answered questions about different scenarios: how they would ensure effective communication with people from diverse backgrounds; how they helped a colleague who was struggling with a task; and to describe a time when a decision they made went against popular opinion.

They all cited past job experiences as well as the importance of communication.

After their closing statements, and before the vote, board members expressed how hard the decision was.

Board members April Ferrao, Paul Harper, John Lyman, board president Suzette Waters and board vice president Jeanne Snodgrass all voted for Hayes.

Board member Blake Willoughby voted for Mees. Lisenby didn’t receive any votes.

Hayes will carry out the remaining 10 months of former board member Katherine Sasser’s term, beginning with Monday’s regularly scheduled board meeting.

Members of the seven-person board serve for three years. The position is unpaid. Hayes can run for a full term in the April 2024 election.

The special session was held after the board met to review the 2023-24 fiscal year budget, as required by state law, prior to a final vote at Monday’s meeting.

Budget hearing

Columbia Public Schools plans to add about 25 new positions, Heather McArthur, the district’s chief financial officer, said at the budget hearing.

Top district budget priorities include improving compensation and maintaining benefit programs for all employees. McArthur also mentioned providing support for the growing needs of the special education program and access to elective courses and career and technical education for all students.

New jobs include adaptive art and physical education teachers for special education students, a Columbia Area Career Center culinary arts teacher and a career center business and industry engagement coordinator.

While listing each job, McArthur emphasized that the new roles would provide continuous support for different departments.

Proposed expenditures will increase by $15.6 million from the 2022-23 fiscal year, totaling $269.8 million. District revenue is projected to increase by $3.2 million, totaling about $268 million.

Salaries and benefits make up almost 80% of total expenditures. There will be a $650 base salary increase for teachers, making the new base salary $40,900. It was previously $40,250.

Teachers who were in the now-eliminated legacy column — designated for teachers with the education equivalent of a master’s degree and 45 hours or more of education or training — will receive a step raise instead of the $650 increase, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Student transportation costs will increase by about $965,000. McArthur credited the increase to Student Transportation of America getting additional raises for their bus drivers in order to retain and recruit drivers.

In public comment, Noelle Gilzow, president of the Columbia Missouri National Education Association, said the district sits on too much money.

Gilzow said excess funds exist to hire teachers at new buildings.

“It kind of feels like CPS is prioritizing future teachers, over those who are here now,” Gilzow said. “I wonder how amenable our public will be when we next ask for a tax levy increase if they perceive that those monies are being squirreled away.”

Gilzow was the only speaker during public comment.