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School board looks to commission for budget help

Posted: May 15, 2012 - 10:40am  |  Updated: May 15, 2012 - 11:26am

Twitter @DonnieFetter

The Columbia County School Board said Tuesday they might look to the county government for help solving their budget woes.

The county Tax Com­missioner’s Office charges the school system 2.5 percent of taxes collected on its behalf each school year. System Controller Pat Sullivan that equates to an about $1.7 million payment.

The board agreed during a budget study session to send a letter to county commissioners asking them to cut that percentage.

Sullivan said that just half a percent cut would save the school system about $350,000.

The school system is about $1 million short in revenues to balance a proposed $174 million budget for next school year.

The county government, though, is doing so well that commissioners are considering a half-mill rollback of the millage rate dedicated to paying off debut. The cut would save property taxpayers about $2 million.

The school system lost about $13 million in state funding for next school year.

The counteract the deficit, the school board voted in March to cut 35 teaching positions and nearly 70 teacher aides to save about $5 million in personnel costs. Even though the pupil population might grow by as much as 500 next school year, the cuts were achieved by raising class sizes by no more than three pupils per class.

Officials currently are considering pulling $6.2 million out of the system’s $38 million reserve fund to make up more of the deficit.

Superintendent Charles Nagle told the board that the system might make up even more with a potential $600,000 savings in energy costs, as much as 2.5 percent growth in the county tax digest, and an about $500,000 carry over from the current budget.

But these are short-term solutions meant to avoid a tax increase and teacher furloughs for next school year, Nagle said.

“If things do not change for next year, we will not be able to maintain without raising taxes if we continue to grow,” he said.

Another future option might be to shorten the school calendar with furlough days, which saves about $700,000 per day, according to system data.

“Unless something good happens, this could be the last year you could have a full school calendar,” Nagle told the board. “We can’t keep raising class sizes.”

 

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Comments (12)

Riverman1

Mr. Nagle, Just Make the Cuts

It is simply a time to tighten our belts with government and public schools. How much plainer can it be? Try to present this diversion of tax money to the Commission and we'll have Ron Cross telling everyone to be quiet or he will clear the room like he said at the Magnolia Trace hearing. The public won't stand for it.

Spelunkerman

"Make the Cuts"?

Riverman, do you have children in the school system? You seem to be bent on pulling as much money out of the public school system as possible and therefore is reasonable to believe you do not. If the school system continues to lose funding, there is a real potential of students not being ready for our global market.
Since you seem to know so much about the funding issues, I'd like to hear your ideas on where you would make cuts?

Riverman1

I've said often

Spelunkerman, that is a good question. One of these days, I'm going to dissect the school budget, but I know enough about it now to make a few suggestions. The county has applicants lined up for jobs because they want to work here with our demographics that guarantee superior results. Thus, I'd cut salaries.

The main salaries that should be cut are teachers with lots of years and advanced degrees that pay them more. Private school teachers are paid a lot less and they have good results.

Administrators from assistant principals to Nagle should experience the biggest cuts. They are way overpaid.

I'd also cut out all middle school athletics. That can be done with the county rec department picking up the slack and even using school names.

No county stipends should be paid ever.

Statewide health care contributions by employees must be increased dramatically. There is no reason for a teacher to have the entire family on her health care insurance unless she is a single parent.

Finally, there are many days when little work is done in school. I'd eliminate, call if furlough if you want, about 7 days.

Not the suggestions you want to hear, I realize.

Barry Paschal

A few problems

Some of your suggestions are good, RM, or at least worth analyzing. (I'm certain, for example, that you really don't know how much money would be saved by eliminating middle school athletics.)

On your suggestion for salary cuts, though, what you also might not understand is that the majority of educator pay is state-mandated. Counties pay a small supplement, and could even eliminate it if they want (some have in these times), but there's little doubt that the effect would be to make the county less competitive for the best educators. We really don't want to set up a system where we try to just get the cheapest labor, unless we want to inflict long-term damage to the system.

But even if the county did that, teacher pay rates would still be based on the state scale.

Riverman1

A couple of points.

I realize middle school coaches don't make that much. Heck, high school coaches don't either. Football and baseball fields do cost a lot to build and maintain, however. Those could be turned over to the county to maintain and light while new ones are not built as more schools are constructed. Keep in mind for county sports programs, the kids have to pay to play.

As far as salaries, I sense no one really understands the current economy does call for salary cuts. A statement such as inflicting damaging in the long run by cutting pay is hardly realistic with the number of applicants lined up because they want to live and work in the county with our kids.

I assume you agree with my other points.

Barry Paschal

Salaries

The important thing to remember is that there is a "floor" on teacher salaries: the state mandate. You can't cut it below that point, and the local supplements on top of the minimum mandate aren't that large. The insurance premiums also are a state mandate - which is one of the current problems because, for example, the state requires local systems to fund full health insurance for every parapro even if the parapro doesn't opt for the insurance. The amount counties are required by the state to pay next year per parapro rises to nearly $10,000 - and parapros only make about $16,000 per year.

In short, most of the things you've suggested (other than sports) are those that local officials don't control. When they're working on budgets, they have to stay within the constraints given by the state - which provides a decreasing amount of money to fund them.

Spelunkerman

No dog in the fight, except for my children

RM, I do not disagree with several of your ideas including doing away with Supplements. Someone once told me that the reason administrators need higher salaries is for their experience and ideas. Anyone can become an administrator by obtaining a higher degree; however, a bad administrator could cost the taxpayer more in the long run. I want the very best for my children. Many of my acquaintances agree to a small property tax increase to ease the burden so long as it goes away when things get better. Private companies do the same when costs go up only instead of tax, it's obtained through Cost of Goods (ie, food). So, you didn't answer the other part of my question, do you have children in the Columbia or Richmond County School System?

Riverman1

Spelunkerman and Barry

My kids went to Lakeside-Riverside-Stevens Creek. Out now. Honestly, those schools provided a valuable education and experience for my kids in many ways.

To you and Barry, as I said, because I know you've said before, Barry, that you analyze the school budget in detail and ask all candidates for the BOE about it. I would dissect it and become detailed. Ha, but don't think I'm running for the BOE. You would eviscerate me. I was trying to give fast answers about what I would cut. I think I made some good points actually. Cut middle school athletic fields, associated costs and coaches' salaries. Cut the supplements. Cut administrator salaries, cut paid assistant principals. Some teachers could fill those roles. Furlough days for all the nonproductive days can be instituted at about 7 days. That's a way to cut pay locally. Matter of fact, all those things can be done locally. The whole teacher pay situation needs to be addressed on a state level. Especially, the health care because the entire state budget is going to go for retirees health before too many years. Really, we have to do something.

Barry Paschal

Administrator salaries and allotments

Administrators, and their number at each school, also are set by state formula, with supplements for competitive purposes at local systems. You won't find much savings there.

Eliminating fields at middle schools? They're already there, and construction of those are funded by sales taxes anyway, which aren't a problem. Maintenance is a minimal expense, and it would be a misuse of taxpayer property to just abandon them.

And, as you echoed, pay and health insurance are state issues.

So, here's the heart of it, to quote from your entry above: you were "trying to give fast answers." That's the problem with most of the armchair quarterbacks on school funding: the fast answers and low-hanging fruit are gone. Don't you think that if there WERE "fast answers," those would already have been exhausted?

You generally have a good compass. It really would do you good to actually learn more about school funding so you could offer real suggestions.

Spelunkerman

Thank you RM

I appreciate you answering the question about your children attending Columbia County Schools and am sincerely glad they were blessed with valuable education. This is nothing other than what most parents are looking for. So what you are stating is you think my children deserve less than yours? The public school system is being attacked by hard core conservatives who won't/don't have a dog in the fight other than money. It's a sad day when we attack the very thing that potentially will save our country. I was raised, and have been a conservative Republican all my life; however, like many of my friends who have children, are rethinking our position for the next election. If the siphoning of moneys from education continue, I know of at least a dozen who will not vote for the sitting Governor, Senators, Representatives, or local Board Members who are not willing to make the tough decisions on saving our childrens future.

Riverman1

Oh, I Know

Barry, I knew before I wrote anything that you know that budget thoroughly and that's why I qualified my comments with my limitations. Maybe I will dissect the budget one day as I said, but I really can't argue with any of the facts you pointed out.

To both of you, here is the thing, the market crashed pretty good today and Europe is in turmoil. We have to change our entire educational system to something we can pay for. Our economy is going south like a trucker on I-95 trying to get out of New York after dropping off a load of untaxed cigarettes. It's a start with bigger classes and fewer teachers. We all need to start looking for ways to make cuts. I do see the big picture here, but I'm not sure about others.

When most of us went to school the summer vacation was much longer. Why couldn't it return to that format with fewer school days with reduced teacher pay? I have a feeling the results back then with fewer days were actually better.

Riverman1

Nagle Put Middle School Athletics on the Table

Keep in mind, it was Charles Nagle who previously put middle school athletics on the table as a way to save money. Here I was thinking he must know what he was talking about.

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