Columbia County school officials last week temporarily pulled peanut butter from school lunch menus.
The peanut butter didn't come from the south Georgia plant at the center of a salmonella scare. But rather than continue to field repetitive calls from worried parents, school nutrition staffers put the peanut butter in storage until next month.
Also last week, in response to the current economic downturn and expected state budget cuts, school officials pondered belt-tightening moves that could eliminate 37 teaching positions and at least 10 technology and clerical aids.
Afterward, on The Augusta Chronicle's Web site, the breaking news version of the peanut-butter story received more reader comments than the speculation about millions in school budget cuts.
Are our priorities this much out of whack? Or is the idea of hacking more than $6 million from Columbia County schools just too much to wrap our heads around?
The school system is being forced to live off of the budgetary equivalent of peanut butter not just because of the economic downturn, but because Gov. Sonny Perdue decreed that he would eliminate the state's Homestead Tax Relief Grant.
Adding insult to that injury, it's possible local communities would be required to send out supplemental tax bills to citizens if lawmakers aren't able to restore the grants. Some attorneys say county governments can't fund the shortfall themselves, because it would constitute an illegal "gratuity" to citizens.
Either way, the school system is likely to receive the funding it otherwise would not have gotten if the grants were simply eliminated, at least for this year. So that part of the budget-cutting might be a little premature.
It also seems a little drastic to be talking about such cuts when the system's budget is resting comfortably on a fat surplus of more than $25 million. School officials often treat that surplus like something sacred. But the fact is that the funds are supposed to be there for a figurative "rainy day" - and right now, the budgetary weather is pretty wet.
Besides: If the system can make the case for cutting any positions without hurting classroom instruction, isn't that an admission that the positions aren't necessary in the first place?
School children can live without peanut butter for a couple of weeks. School officials need to explain how we can live without three dozen school employees, too.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.