Most people who live in Columbia County would agree that our outstanding school system is one of the primary reasons people choose to live in our community. And we have made it no secret that over the past six years, our school system has been faced with state funding reductions in excess of $92 million.
To date, we have met our mandated responsibilities of providing a balanced budget by cutting instructional funds in half; furloughing employees a total of eight days by reducing the number of school days over a two-year period; increasing class sizes by an average of three students; and reducing staff by more than 120 individuals at a savings of approximately $60 million. Currently, we are teaching approximately 2,000 additional students with a workforce of 200 fewer teachers as compared to just five years ago. Even with these additional students, the state has reduced our funding this year by an additional $4 million, leaving us with an $11 million deficit for the coming year.
As we face fiscal year 2014, we must draw from our reserve funds and make additional cuts to our existing budget. Notwithstanding, we remain approximately $4.6 million short of a balanced budget, as the revenue from our local tax digest is not enough to offset the additional loss of state revenue. We have exhausted our resources, leaving us with few options – options that would severely damage education as we know it.
Regretfully, we have reached a point where we can no longer meet the demands of the budget shortfall without seeking increased local financial support. Accordingly, I have recommended to our Board of Education the need to increase our local millage rate by one mill, the equivalent of $40 more per $125,000 property value, providing the school system an additional $4 million of revenue. With our state government’s failure to properly fund education, our Board of Education must carry the burden of advocating for students.
While none of us supports a tax increase, until our state meets its constitutional obligation to provide sufficient funding for public education, we all must share in the responsibility of financially supporting our school system so we can maintain the level of education students deserve and we all appreciate and expect.
Columbia County Schools