The Columbia County school board unanimously gave tentative approval to cutting more than 40 educator positions and nearly 70 teacher aides for next school year during a Tuesday meeting.
The teacher cuts represent just a fraction of the school system’s more than 1,600 certified educators but the vote eliminates more than one-third of the system’s paraprofessionals. Just 131 teachers aides will remain next school year 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 by reducing the demand for more teachers.
Paraprofessionals primarily are funded with local tax dollars rather than by the state, meaning their elimination saves more local money.
Teacher aides in Columbia County make on average $16,000 a year, but the school system next year also must pay an additional $6,000 in state-mandated benefits for each one.
Nagle said while he hopes to handle the personnel cuts through attrition, layoffs might be necessary.
“This is a hard cut for me and a hard cut for you,” Nagle told the board.
Columbia County, he said, 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. “We’re slipping off the edge.”
The board likely will discuss the issue for final approval March 27.