Students and staffers returning to two Columbia County schools in the fall now know who’ll be in charge after the school board Tuesday approved the hiring of new principals.
Stephanie Reese is taking the helm of Brookwood Elementary, while Laura Hughes will be the new principal of North Columbia Elementary.
“It’s an honor to be recommended and an honor to be accepted,” said Reese, who served as principal at Ellen Woodside Elementary School in Greenville, S.C., for seven years. She has been an educator since 1992.
Reese will take over from the retiring Brenda Jones, a more than 40-year veteran Columbia County educator who has been principal of Brookwood since the school opened in 1988.
“She’s stepping into the shoes of an icon,” said Superintendent Charles Nagle.
Hughes is an assistant principal for Evans and Grovetown middle school.Previously, she was principal of Dearing Elementary School in McDuffie County.
“My heart is in elementary, and North Columbia is exactly the kind of school I want to be a part of,” she told board members. Hughes replaces the retiring Kay Sanders, who has been principal for 10 years.
Also Tuesday, board members gave tentative approval to a budget for next year that balances by drawing heavily from reserves and cutting the number of educators.
Several weeks of discussions on that $173 million budget focused on filling a $13 million gap in state funding. While board members balanced last year’s budget with a half-mill tax increase, this year’s budget balances without a tax hike and without furloughing school system employees.
“That reflects a full school year without furloughs and without a reduced calendar,” Nagle said.
Much of the money, more than $7.5 million, comes from the school system’s reserves, Nagle said. That reserve is used to maintain the system’s cash flow as it pays employees until the year’s tax receipts and state funding arrives.
An additional $5 million in cuts came in March, when trustees approved Nagle’s plan to eliminate about 35 certified teaching positions and nearly 70 paraprofessionals.
Those cuts were made possible when the school system obtained a waiver from the state to allow slightly larger class sizes.
Remaining gaps will be filled with cuts in maintenance, fuel and other areas, along with an anticipated reduction in the system’s electricity bills from Georgia Power Co., Nagle said.
The system also is hoping for more revenue from an expected 2.5 percent increase in the county’s tax digest from rising property values.
“We’re counting on that 2.5 percent,” Nagle said, noting that the county’s tax digest hasn’t been finalized. Assessment notices to property owners were sent last week, and the digest won’t be settled until after taxpayers have an opportunity to challenge the value placed on their property.
In case the cuts and added revenue fail to fill the gap, trustees also designated three days in next year’s calendar in which employees could be furloughed.
Final approval of the budget is expected at the board’s June 12 meeting.
Because the school system will be accepting the increase in revenues from the higher property assessments, state law requires the board to hold hearings to announce that tax rates won’t be rolled back to compensate.
Those hearings, at the school board office on Hereford Farm Road in Evans, are set for 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. July 10, and 8 a.m. July 24.