The Columbia County school board agreed to purchase land Tuesday in Evans to become the site of a new North Columbia Elementary School.
The board approved the $584,000 purchase of 26 acres on William Few Parkway between Washington and Columbia roads for the school, even though construction likely won’t start for at least three years.
“Anytime we can get land in this county we need to do it,” Superintendent Charles Nagle said following the Tuesday board meeting.
The school currently is located on 13 acres on Ray Owens Road in Appling.
The purchase is part of a long-term plan to replace several aging schools in Columbia County using 1-percent sales tax dollars earmarked for education.
Currently, the system is building a new Evans Elementary School on Gibbs Road and site work is under way for a new Columbia Middle School on William Few Parkway near Grovetown High.
Also at the meeting, the school board adopted a $173 million budget for next school year, which they balanced by drawing heavily from reserves and cutting educator positions.
For weeks, though, school officials focused on such positives as not initiating furloughs or cutting the school calendar to overcome a $13 million shortfall in state funding.
Officials also avoided a tax hike, such as the half-mill increase they approved last year to make up for state cuts and hopefully avoid furloughs.
However, officials pulled more than $7.5 million from the school system’s reserves, which are used to maintain cash flow and pay employees until the year’s tax receipts and state funding arrives. That withdrawal drops the system below the state-recommended limit of 15 percent of its budget.
“Though I’m not thrilled we’re dropping below the 15-percent revenue line, I understand it’s the situation we’re in,” said trustee Mike Sleeper.
The system saved about $5 million in payroll expenses when the board voted in March to eliminate 35 teaching positions and nearly 70 paraprofessionals.
Cuts in maintenance, fuel and other areas, along with an anticipated reduction in the system’s electricity bills from Georgia Power Co., should help fill remaining budget gaps.
Superintendent Charles Nagle said he is “flipping cushions of the couches around the system, trying to find every dime.”
Also, officials expect a 2.5 percent increase in the county’s tax digest to boost revenues.
Still, the board identified three furlough days for next year’s calendar should the planned expense reductions fall short. A single furlough day can save as much as $600,000 in payroll and operating expenses.
Because the school system will be accepting the increase in revenues from higher property assessments, state law requires the board to hold hearings to announce that tax rates won’t be rolled back to compensate for those reassessments.
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.