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School board cuts positions, approves calendars

Posted: March 18, 2012 - 12:07am  |  Updated: March 19, 2012 - 9:16am

Twitter @DonnieFetter

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.

 

IN OTHER MEETING NEWS

• Board members argued about the start date for schools for 2013 and 2014.

The options receiving tentative approval by the board in a 3-2 vote set Aug. 7 as the start for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. In 2013, Aug. 7 is a Wednesday; It falls on Thursday in 2014.

Nagle told board members that using Aug. 7 allowed officials to start pre-planning for teachers on Aug. 1. If they waited any later, benefits for new teachers wouldn’t be available until October.

School trustee Mike Sleeper pushed for later start dates – Aug. 12 for 2013 and Aug. 11 in 2014. Both those dates were presented as options, and both are Mondays.

However, the calendars with later start dates also start pre-planning after Aug. 1. Sleeper said, though, that pre-planning could begin Aug. 1 and still start school later in the month.

Board member Kristi Baker also voted against the approval, even though it was tentative, to allow more time to poll parents and teachers on their calendar preferences.

Nagle told board members that most of the schools, along with parent and student advisory groups, prefer the calendar approved by board members Regina Buccafusco, Wayne Bridges and Roxanne Whitaker.

• The board purchased property at 221 Flowing Wells Road for $94,000. Nagle said the land will be used to create a bus lane for Martinez Elementary School once it is rebuilt in the next few years.

• School trustees approved Grovetown High Assistant Principal Craig Baker as the principal for summer school this year. His assistant principal will be Evans High Assistant Principal James Hooper.

Summer school will be held June 1 through July 13.

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