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School board struggling to make budget

Posted: May 12, 2012 - 11:02pm

Twitter @DonnieFetter

Columbia County commissioners heard a plan Tuesday to cut property taxes, while the school board discussed cutting expenses without furloughs for teachers.

Presenting a preliminary $173 million budget for next school year, which had to make up for a $13 million cut in state funding, Superintendent Charles Nagle told school trustees that the system is about $993,000 short.

Nagle said he believes his staff can find the needed cuts to balance the budget without furloughs.

The school board voted in March to cut about 35 educator positions and nearly 70 teacher aides to save about $5 million in personnel costs.

Some of those position cuts were made possible by increasing class sizes by as much as three pupils per class for next school year.

School officials also are expecting as much as 2.5 percent growth in the county’s tax digest to overcome some of the funding losses.

Nagle said his staff will seek cuts in maintenance, fuel and other areas to find the money to avoid furloughs. Officials also might pull $6.2 million out of a reserve fund.

A significant savings, Nagle said, might come from Georgia Power.

Nagle said the energy company informed him that the school system could receive a 19 percent drop in energy costs to save about $780,000 on power bills for the 2012-13 school year.

“I believe this is the tightest budget in my 14 years on the board,” said Chairwoman Regina Buccafusco.

Still, Nagle believes it prudent to identify three potential furlough days on the school calendar in case they’re needed.

The budget view looked more optimistic for county officials.

Commissioners considered a half-mill rollback of the mill rate during a meeting to discuss next fiscal year’s $55.9 million proposed budget.

The half-mill cut would be to the portion of the 9.137 millage earmarked for paying off debt.

County Finance Services Director Leanne Reece proposed that commissioners cut the debt mill from 0.654 to 0.154.

Reece told commissioners that four construction projects funded with a 2007 bond all came in under budget, creating an excess officials can use for debt reduction.

Coupled with 1-percent sales tax revenues, Reece said the excess bond funds can cover next year’s debt payments.

Sales tax proceeds have increased by nearly 4 percent over past year, she said.

The commission has cut the mill rate in four of the past five years. The county government’s current millage already is a quarter less than the previous year.

One mill represents about $4 million in property taxes.

The 2012-13 general fund budget as proposed is a 1.56 percent increase over this year, but officials said they can make up the added spending with an expected 2 percent growth in the tax digest.

Officials will further discuss the budget May 15 before voting on it June 5.

School board members also will discuss the budget again on May 15 before a likely vote on June 12.

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Comments (2)


Economic Downturns Are Times to Make Cut

When the economy is bad, it's a given that government services and schools should tighten their belts. To its credit, Columbia County does not have many administrators at the district level, but from assistant principal to Superintendent, they are all paid very well. In addition, teachers are paid above the national average if the cost of living in Georgia is factored in. No one likes to see educators taking cuts, but it is simply time to factor this terrible economy into the equation.

Just My Opinion

Thanks to Mike Sleeper...

..for leaking this information well over a week ago. He let it out BEFORE the teachers heard it! Is that a good way for a school board member to act? Our family knows another member and we asked that member what was planned about the budget. Nothing was said. Nothing. Now that is the way a school board member, or any elected official, should represent the board..NOT with the loose lips like Mike Sleeper. I think Mike feels the people he belches his "insider info" to will keep their mouths shut, but they obviously don't. I think it's time for Mr. Sleeper to move on.