The Columbia County school board voted Tuesday to cut more than 40 educator positions and nearly 70 teacher aides for next school year.
The educator cuts represent just a fraction of the school system’s more than 1,600 teachers, counselors and administrators.
But the vote eliminates more than one-third of the teacher aides, also called para-professionals. Just 131 para-professionals will remain next school year to assist teachers in elementary grades.
The cuts should save the cash-strapped school system nearly $4.5 million in personnel costs, Superintendent Charles Nagle said.
The school system is facing a $13 million cut in state funding for the 2012-13 school year.
Nagle said during a January budget meeting that $4 million in savings from the current school year should help bridge the gap, and he hopes growth in the county’s tax digest might make up another $2 million to cover the system’s about $175 million budget.
Though school officials expect the pupil population to grow by nearly 390 pupils next year, increased class sizes should offset that growth and allow for the teacher cuts.
Para-professionals primarily are funded with local tax dollars, rather than by the state, meaning their elimination saves more local money though they don’t make salaries as high as teachers.
Teacher aides in Columbia County make on average $16,000 each year, but the school system also must pay next year an additional $6,000 in state-mandated benefits for each one.
Nagle said he hopes to handle the personnel cuts through attrition, but layoffs might be necessary.
“This is a hard cut for me and hard cut for you,” Nagle told the board.
Columbia County, Nagle noted, is one of the few school systems in Georgia to employ teacher aides beyond the kindergarten level.
“We’re one of the last hold-ons,” Nagle said, referring to para-professionals in multiple grades. “We’re slipping off the edge.”