Bond talks for Columbia School Board

The Columbia School District conducted its final board meeting of the academic year Thursday, tying up a number of loose ends from the previous meeting while also discussing future financial plans.

Following the coverage of several new resignations and other personnel matters, the start of the meeting centered around a presentation from Anne Noble of Stifel Institutional, which serves as the district’s bond underwriter.

Noble’s presentation covered a range of issues pertaining to the district’s bond payments and other tax and financial matters, with her generally speaking positively about district’s position.

The district, she said, is almost debt free and thus could take on additional projects in the near future.

Noble and members of the board referenced their previous work together in 2020 when Stifel was able to help the district refinance bonds at a 1 percent interest rate.

Columbia Superintendent of Schools Chris Grode commended Noble and Stifel for this, though Noble acknowledged this was a truly exceptional deal and likely couldn’t be guaranteed in future.

“The current market is definitely dramatically changed from 2020,” Noble said. “We’re just in a higher interest rate environment.”

One of several questions posed to Noble came from board president Greg Meyer, who asked about any limitations the district might have when it comes to long-discussed renovations being planned for Columbia High School.

Noble explained that the district isn’t able to build an entirely new building without voter approval, but even substantial additions planned for the high school should be fine, though she added Stifel will ensure the project is above board when the time comes.

Concerning action items on the agenda, the board approved three items which were previously discussed at the April board meeting, the first of which involved largely minor adjustments of this year’s board policies.

The second approval was about the district’s ATI Physical Therapy Service Agreement. One of the board members at the previous meeting had questioned whether or not this agreement involved a new physical therapy class offering, and while this was disproved, the board approved nevertheless.

The third concerned the Columbia AgriScience Association’s use of land in St. Clair County owned by the district. The association, as previously reported, farms the land, selling the crops and paying the district, which in turn uses those funds to benefit the Columbia FFA.

It was addressed in the last meeting that the association had requested a 10-year extension to the lease, and discussion among the board then focused on changes to the length of this contract.

Board member Adam Hemken led the discussion at the latest meeting having spoken with a representative of the association to get a better understanding of why they’re looking for the extension only two years into the current five-year contract.

“Due to investments that need to be made into land as part of normal agricultural business, it’s really a three-year investment cycle, so with only two years remaining in the process, they approached us about extending,” Hemken said. “So we are definitely in favor of that. It makes a lot of sense.”

The board also approved extensions to its contracts with the organization MissVIC for both the employee benefits pool and property casualty pool.

Also at the meeting, Grode commended all the work put toward the recent ACE Olympics event, specifically noting how one parent in the district spoke with him to express her excitement about an older student helping several younger students with their batting form.

“Those moments of somebody calling out a kid… that doesn’t happen all the time, and it’s just beautiful to see,” Grode said. “And so, the ACE Olympics, an adult noticed it, and it was just a beautiful thing.”

At the end of the meeting, commendations were also noted for Columbia High School Principal Brian Reeves, who board member Lisa Schumacher noted for handling the school’s recent graduation very well.

“Having to take it from the football field into the gym an hour and a half before it starts, I know it was a lot of work, and it was, as far as we know, successful,” Schumacher said.

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Andrew Unverferth

HTC web