To millions of people, a new year starts the process of trimming some fat from their waistlines.
To Columbia County school officials, the new year starts the forced process of trimming money from what they consider an already anemic budget.
“We’re expecting a shortfall of about $10 million” in state funding, schools Superintendent Charles Nagle said of the system’s 2012-13 school year budget preparations.
Such shortfalls, though, are nothing new.
State lawmakers slashed education spending statewide by nearly $500 million from 2003 to 2009 through “austerity” cuts, reductions in the Quality Basic Education funding formula.
Since 2002, the county has lost more than $73.5 million in state education funding. In the current school year, the system lost more than $15.7 million in funding because of state budget cuts, according to the school system.
Through the Quality Basic Education formula, school systems receive funding based on pupil population. But in recent years, officials say, the funding has not matched the growth.
School system Controller Pat Sullivan noted in an e-mail that in the age of austerity reductions the pupil population in Columbia County has grown by 22 percent. But the county’s state education funding grew by only 8 percent during that time.
“(That) means we have to make up the 14 (percent) difference somewhere. ... So you figure on a general fund budget of $175 million, 14 (percent) of that is $24.5 million we have lost this year we should be receiving from the state,” Sullivan said.
To overcome the budget shortfall last year, the school board voted to raise property taxes by a half-mill, which resulted in about $1.9 million of added revenues.
In addition to raising taxes, the board employed such cost-cutting measures as delaying the purchase of new textbooks to save about $2.37 million, saving about $300,000 by cutting instructional spending, and eliminating a $950,000 contingency fund for payroll previously in place in case more teachers were needed.
They also took money out of the system’s reserve fund, increased class sizes and cut teaching positions.
More of the same measures might be needed for next school year.
“If everything holds like it is and we’re able to cut some teaching positions with larger class sizes, I may be able to save $2 million,” Nagle said. “We’re hoping to have a local (tax) digest growth that may give us an extra $2 million, leaving us with $6 million to make up.
“Where that will come from though, I don’t know.”
Nagle said he intends to meet with the school board this month to discuss means to overcome the deficit.