A day of reckoning is coming.
Columbia County’s population continues to rise, and along with it, student populations continue to increase. But school funding from the state still is far below the amount the state itself says it’s supposed to provide, and even though school taxes consume the biggest chunk of your property tax bite, the system is struggling to keep up with that growth.
That means next year, the school board plans to hire just 15 teachers – some of them in bookkeeping “fractions” – to meet the needs of educating at least 400 additional students.
That squeeze can’t go on forever. Absent more money from the state or a local tax increase, the best news is the opening this fall of the new Columbia Middle and Evans Elementary schools.
How? It’s like this: Both of the new schools will be bigger than the schools they’re replacing, as will other schools already in the planning stages. It’s all targeted toward putting all those new students in fewer buildings, which means less overhead – which means cost savings.
While those 400 students represent about as many as the total of a small elementary school, they’ll be absorbed into the system without the need for a separate school – in other words, no additional physical plant, and no additional administrators, secretaries, custodians, lunchroom workers, and so on.
There are still a handful of old, smaller schools that are on the list to be replaced with larger schools, such as Martinez, North Columbia, North Harlem and Grovetown elementaries. If they can be replaced with larger schools on a pace that keeps up with the county’s growth, it will at least forestall the need for additional schools that drive up the overall human cost of education.
That doesn’t mean the day of reckoning won’t come, but at least it puts it off a little while longer.