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School board weighs budget options

Posted: January 24, 2012 - 8:03pm  |  Updated: January 29, 2012 - 1:01am

Columbia County’s school system is expecting to fill a budget gap for next school year with larger class sizes, fewer teachers and fewer aides, while the county government might be able to provide a tax cut.

Those were the main points from two budget sessions held Tuesday, with school officials struggling to make up for an expected $10 million shortfall, and county officials anticipating lowering property tax rates for the fifth year in a row.

“We’ve got a budget tight as a tick at $175 million” for 2012-13, said school Superintendent Charles Nagle, noting that the amount represents per-pupil expenditures more than $1,100 below the state average.

“We’re getting the best bang for the buck, and we’re a high-achieving school system,” he added.

To make up for next year’s expected shortfall – the result of a combination of stagnant state funding and higher student enrollment – Nagle said savings from the current year will bridge up to $4 million of the gap, with $2 million more if the county’s digest grows by an expected 3 percent.

The system then could gain nearly $3 million by cutting as many as 21 teachers and 62 paraprofessionals, Nagle said. All of those positions would be eliminated through attrition.

The teaching positions would come from slight increases in class sizes throughout the system, allowing classes with up to three students more than the state recommended number. Paraprofessionals – who largely are funded locally rather than through the state – would be reduced to a ratio of one for every three teachers in elementary schools, trimming the number from 195 in the system to 133.

“The money’s got to come from somewhere unless you raise taxes,” Nagle said.

Board members will get a formal proposal on the budget at their first meeting in February.

Earlier in the day, county government department heads and constitutional officers met for a brief study session to outline goals for upcoming budget preparations.

County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said while the tax assessor’s office is expecting modest growth in the county’s tax digest, it’s possible the state Legislature could re-impose a moratorium on revaluing property. If that happens, the digest “would reflect little or no growth,” Cross said.

Cross instructed all of the county’s departments to work from zero-based budgets with no expenditures higher than current levels. Because of constraints from recent years’ consolidation of jobs within the county, he also told department heads to be prepared to make the case for any new hires that might be needed.

Meetings to discuss the county’s budgets are scheduled to begin in early March.

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Comments (10)

Craig Spinks

CCBOE budget

Will CC residents put their money where their mouths are? We talk about good schools but are we willing to pay more taxes to keep good schools and to make good schools better?

Now, out of the other side of my mouth: When's the last time that the CCBOE brought in competent, disinterested, out-of-state auditors to scrutinize the financial and personnel operations of our school system? An outside perspective can often provide new insights.

Oh, we can't afford such an audit in these austere times, some might assert. We can't afford not to have one, I'd counter.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

Little Lamb

Mouths

No, Craig, we are not willing to pay more school taxes.

And let us drive a stake in this "furlough" notion. Furloughs are a shell game. Employees and contractors give up a day's pay in return for not working that day. Far better than furloughs would be actual pay cuts. That way, the work gets done. Furloughs show the public that the work is not necessary or important.

brjeepcon

Columbia County School Board

If the Columbia County School Board is so worried about the budget, why would they give a contract for the New Middle School #7 to a contractor that is $70,945.00 higher then the low qualified bidder was. Clearly the School Board thinks nothing of spending extra money on projects that they could have clearly had completed for less money. The actual low bidder was $70,945.00 less then the contractor that it was awarded to. This money could have been put towards salaries or other areas. Every little bit helps in these times of tight funding and for the School Board to just give it to another contractor that is so much higher, is just, WRONG. Someone needs to look into this, sounds like collusion to me. If it talks like a bird and looks like a bird, it must be a bird.

StarksWolf

CCBOE Budget

@Little Lamb

I find it funny that you say "that way the work gets done". As if the teacher were able to say "Sorry Timmy, I won't be grading your paper because I had the day off yesterday due to furlough." "Sorry kids, I don't have a lesson planned due to furlough." "No sir, I didn't update your childs online grade report, or my web site because I was at home yesterday on furlough." And surely they'll lower the standards required to pass the end of the year tests since the teachers won't have as much time to address the standards.

All of that sounds very reasonable doesn't it?

More likely Columbia County teachers will continue the trend of doing more with less that they have been working at for the last several years.

I disagree with your assessment that furloughs show the public that the work is unnecessary or unimportant, but rather it shows that the teachers are going to do the work anyway, regardless of if we pay them for it.

On that note, congrats to all the schools who were awarded honors at this same meeting.

brjeepcon

I would think that the money

I would think that the money that could have been saved by taking the low bidder on the New Middle School #7 could have saved some of the furlough days or salary cuts and made things just a little easier for the teachers that go to work everyday. I think that overall Columbia County students and teachers just got the shaft.

StarksWolf

Money

@brjeepcon

Well, the thing about construction and bids is that more goes into that process than just looking at the bottom line. It's not as easy as saying the lowest price wins. They have to look at things like the contractor's reputation, workmanship, history, references, materials being used, etc.

Maybe they took a higher bid because they had worked with that contractor before, I don't know. Just saying it's a possibility. Personally I'd pay more to have someone I could trust do work for me rather than pay less and not be as sure of what I was getting.

I guess what I'm saying is just because it was a lower bid, doesn't mean it was a better bid. At least in the opinion of those who made the decision. The people of the county elect the members of the school board because they trust them to make those kinds of judgement calls. If you don't like the decision, let your elected representative know, and/or work to get a new one elected.

brjeepcon

Or, maybe there was an

Or, maybe there was an agreement prior to the award that the other contractor that was onsite on another project was going to get this project no matter what the cost. Apparently the 2nd contractor knew before the award that they would be award the contract. How could the 2nd contractor know in advance if they were not told by someone from the school board offices or the division that is in charge of the construction? The board can only make decision based on the information they are given, and in this case, they were told what one person wanted and not what was in the best interest of the county and residents. Basically, this was a backdoor deal that never should have happened. The money that could have been saved could have gone some where else to help the teachers and staff from cuts in pay or time off. If the board had been diligent in this and looked in to it a little deeper, they would find that collusion was in play and that is against the law.

Little Lamb

Budget Categories

Actually, brjeepcon is incorrect in saying that dollars slated for school construction can be redirected into salaries. You have to spend school construction money on construction. I'm sure that all school administrators wished that all the money allocated them to be spent could just be put into one huge slush fund so the administrator could spend it like he pleased. But the government funding formulae require funds to be spent as allocated in the several categories.

Little Lamb

Low Bid

Governments (including government school systems) should accept the low bid if the bidder is financially sound and the bid package meets the advertised specifications. The Columbia County News-Times had a good editorial about this a few weeks ago:

Low Bidder

Riverman1

Reminds Me of Richmond County Contracting

When you don't award the contract to the low bidder due to some nebulous reasoning it reeks of wrong doing. Contracting in Richmond County that made bidders go through a dog and pony show before a board of officials with various requirements was ruled illegal.

I fail to see how Columbia County doing something similar isn't also stopped by the courts. Columbia County's school budget is over a hundred million dollars. There's power being on the school board and in administration and why so many covet the office. Awarding contracts is not something they are simply going to let go to the highest bidder as should be done.

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