School officials met with state legislators Thursday and asked them to increase funding for schools.
In the past two years, the county has been hit with $3.7 million in austerity reductions, money that local taxpayers have had to subsidize to keep teachers employed and programs going, Columbia County School Superintendent Tommy Price said.
"I wanted you to see how hard it has hit us, and we've tried to absorb it without kicking anybody off or cutting any programs," he told the county's local legislative delegation. "Under education reform, there were to be reviews of funding every three years and it's not happening, the disparity grows."
Price said the state was not supplying adequate funds to meet requirements of such things as transportation, enrichment teachers, instructional supplies and textbooks or system operations.
He also asked the legislators to strengthen the Public School Employees Retirement System, which helps employees such as school custodians, bus drivers and lunchroom workers. Each month,it pays each retiree $12.75 times the number of years worked. Columbia County has a matching annuity program.
Sen. Don Cheek, R-Augusta, said he remembers when the program began that there was a commitment to increase the amount by 50 cents each year, which hasn't happened.
"It's a new program, it's underfunded and we know it," he said.
Though Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling, has said it is likely that class-size reductions mandated by education reform will not be fully implemented because of budget constraints this year, Price asked him to take it a step further.
"With a growing system like this one, if one child walks in in February, you've got to disrupt that class to create a new one. No one wants that - not the parents, not the students," Price said.
He asked the legislators to consider setting a cutoff date on class-size requirements, relaxing restrictions after the first official pupil count in October.
Brush asked board members to draft a related resolution so the delegation could be armed for the fight during the upcoming legislative session.
"I think we are willing to step out there again and fight that battle," Brush said. "The money is just not there. A lot of systems are not in as good a shape as we are, and they couldn't do it anyway."
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