Facing the possibility of a shortfall of as much as $10 million, Columbia County school board members plan to start budget discussions Jan. 24.
School Superintendent Charles Nagle told trustees Tuesday that the worst-case scenario for filling the gap in the upcoming budget, depending on state funding, will be creating larger class sizes, increasing taxes, or furloughing employees.
“These are desperate times with desperate measures,” Nagle said, during a discussion about applying for a new state waiver to allow larger classes so more teachers won’t have to be hired mid-year.
Despite steady increases in student population, the school system lost nearly $16 million this year in state funding, with the gap filled with budget cuts, money from reserves and a half-mill tax increase.
In advance of the upcoming budget sessions, Nagle said it was “too early to become optimistic about anything from Atlanta” after Gov. Nathan Deal promised in his annual State of the State address to seek additional funding for public schools.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Nagle provided board members with the numbers of spaces available for students who would like to attend a different school next year under state-mandated “permissive transfers.”
The transfers are allowed within the system. Because Columbia County schools typically operate at or near capacity, few transfer spaces generally are available. For the 2012-13 school year, a total of 417 spaces will be open for students to apply to move, Nagle said.
More than half of those spaces – 222 – are at Harlem High School, whose population drastically was reduced during the rezoning for Grovetown High. The next higher number, 59 spaces, are available at Lewiston Elementary, previously the county’s largest elementary school. It lost population after rezoning for the opening this year of the new Baker Place Elementary.
Still, not many students are expected to apply for the transfers, Nagle said.
“Under permissive transfers, they have to provide their own transportation,” he said. “Usually we don’t have a lot, but we have a few.”
This year, with 382 spaces available, just 86 are using the transfers, said Robert Jarrell, assistant superintendent for student support.
Numbers allowed under the state-mandated program are based on the capacity of each school as listed by the state Department of Education, minus 10 percent to account for possible school growth, Nagle said.
In addition to Harlem and Lewiston, schools available for transfers are Blue Ridge, North Columbia, Riverside and Westmont elementary schools and Stallings Island Middle School.
Transfer requests must be made to the county board of education office before Jan. 31.
Also Tuesday, board members elected Mike Sleeper to serve as vice-chairman for the year, reappointed Fletcher, Harley, Fletcher LLP as as the board’s legal firm, and recognized local author Barbara Seaborn for donating copies of her book on Columbia County’s history to each of the county’s middle- and high-school libraries.