Columbia County school officials are projecting continued school system growth next year, though not as much as in recent years.
For the 2012-13 school year, officials expect 387 more elementary pupils, 56 fewer than the current year, 213 more in middle schools and 387 more high-schoolers.
“We’re clearly experiencing a decline in the birth rate,” Superintendent Charles Nagle told the board Tuesday, regarding an uncharacteristic decline in elementary enrollment.
A reason for the lower projections, aside from declining birth rates, is the system’s new approach of only using the previous two years of enrollment growth to estimate future growth. In the past, school officials examined the previous four years of growth.
Last year, school officials over-projected kindergarten enrollment by 142 pupils.
Nagle said the two-year strategy provides a more conservative estimate.
Those figures are important because the number of pupils determines the number of teachers needed. The number of teachers drive the budget projections, because about 90 percent of the budget is used to pay salaries.
“We feel like this is a good start for us to begin our budget process,” Nagle said.
About 24,000 pupils currently are enrolled in the system.
Also during the meeting, the school board approved sending 20 fifth-year high school students – four from each high school – to the Grovetown alternative school for a pilot program meant to fast-track them toward getting a diploma.
“Only those students who are motivated and have a reasonable chance for success, based on their number of credits, past academic history, (or) are in danger of ‘aging out’ prior to the end of the semester will be considered,” according to an abstract submitted to the school board.
The alternative school currently has available computer lab space to house the program. If it proves successful and grows, the program might move to Columbia Middle or Evans Elementary as those schools are vacated for new facilities.
The classes will be monitored by graduation coaches, as they already are trained in online learning programs and overseeing students in danger of not graduating.
For the pilot, Nagle expects to only need $1,000 to compensate graduation coaches for mileage. But if the board decides to move forward with the program, following the pilot period, Nagle said a full-time teacher might be required.
Classes for the proposed program would start at 9 a.m. and conclude at noon, Monday through Thursday.
Such a time frame allows students to seek afternoon employment while earning their diploma, according to the abstract.
Chosen students must provide their own transportation to the school.