The Columbia County Board of Education put the final stamp of approval on its $118 million 2002-2003 operating budget Tuesday.
The budget increased from $110 million this year to $118 million in the 2002-2003 school year. Officials expect to spend $3.5 million more than they plan to take in, but there will be no tax increase. School officials will dip into reserves to make up the difference.
Planning on a 5 percent growth rate in the tax digest, local property tax revenue is expected to generate $39 million, while the state has allocated $75 million.
Employee pay raises - 3.25 percent - and the addition of new teachers and support staff to the payroll account for most of the increase. Salaries and benefits account for $85 million. The school system will add 23 new teaching positions at a cost of $1.1 million.
Also at the meeting:
The board approved an incentives package for retired teachers returning to work in the classroom.
Under rules of the state teacher retirement system, educators who retire, but who want to continue to teach, may receive their full retirement benefits as long as they teach less than half (49 percent or less) of a full-time schedule.
The county's benefit package would provide sick leave (half of what a full-time teacher gets) and eligibility for all other benefits except short- and long- term disability. These 49 percenters would also not be eligible for merit health insurance and no retirement would be withheld.
The system expects to have about 10 working next year.
"As long as we don't start making this the rule, rather than the exception, I think this will help us a lot in the future," said Board Chairman Wayne Bridges.
The board also gave final approval to waivers which will allow Stevens Creek and South Columbia elementary schools to offer Spanish to their students next year.
The waivers allow the schools to deviate from elementary curriculum guidelines the board recently approved that increase the amount of time students spend in core classes and structure the minutes spent in art, music and physical education. Both schools plan to shave 15 to 20 minutes off academic core subjects to make time for foreign language.
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