Columbia school superintendent walks back talk about Board support for blighted "Enterprise Zone"
COLUMBIA, 2/19/12 (Beat Byte) -- A radio show call-in from an upset listener had Columbia Public Schools superintendent Chris Belcher, Ph.D. walking back testimony made before the Columbia City Council by Board member Jonathan Sessions at the February 6 Council meeting.
On behalf of the School Board, Sessions urged Council support
for Resolution R20-12
, a so-called Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ) with Blight Decree Council members unanimously approved
. The caller told Belcher he thought Sessions had "overstepped," and wanted to know where both superintendent and School Board stood on the controversial issue.
"I do not think he spoke for the Board,
" Belcher told listeners about Sessions' testimony on the KFRU Sunday Morning Roundtable show today.
Prior to the call, Belcher repeatedly emphasized both he and Board members had made no decisions to support the Enterprise Zone, which could cost public schools significantly with property tax breaks for certain development and business interests.
But speaking as "a representative elected to represent the best interests of the Columbia Public Schools Board of Education," Sessions almost gushed about the proposal
. He stepped up to answer concerns 5th Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony
expressed over the property tax breaks.
"The Superintendent and School Board have been made aware of everything being presented here," Sessions said. "This could have a serious effect on us and that's why we've been involved."
School Board members -- currently pitching one of the largest property tax increases
in recent memory and $50 million in new bond debt
-- had fully considered the EEZ's tax implications, Sessions told Council members and the audience. "We're behind this one hundred percent," he said. "This is a great opportunity! We see this as beneficial to Columbia Public Schools."
Sessions may also be in line to take a seat on a new Enterprise Zone Board representing the school district. "I've been involved in this for a long time now," he told Council members.
Sessions had joined a chorus of development lobbyists pushing the Blight Decree and Enterprise Zone
proposal. Led by REDI chairman and flooring mogul Dave Griggs
, the group countered opposition from about a dozen citizens worried about everything from eminent domain to the property tax impact on public schools.
"100% of nothing is nothing," Sessions said, borrowing a trickle-down economics line about how the Enterprise Zone might create jobs. "I urge you to move forward!"