Columbia County school officials will meet Tuesday to discuss options for coping with the loss of about $4.5 million in state funding following the latest round of budget cuts. One option might include a tax increase.
Gov. Sonny Perdue ordered last week a 3 percent funding cut for public schools and said he is eliminating funding equivalent to three unpaid furlough days for teachers. Those cuts and others are needed, he said, to make up a $900 million shortfall in state revenues.
Many Columbia County school board members would not rule out a possible tax increase to offset the state cuts.
"I don't think anything is off the table yet," said school trustee Mike Sleeper.
Board member Roxanne Whitaker added, "We're not going to rule anything out as a possibility right now, but I'm hoping we won't raise the millage."
School board Chairwoman Regina Buccafusco said that she would not support a property tax increase.
"That is not a recommendation I will make," she said.
Board member Mildred Blackburn said she didn't know what she would do. Phone messages left for trustee Wayne Bridges were not immediately returned.
To avoid raising taxes, Superintendent Charles Nagle said he believes he can find other means to compensate for the state cuts.
"You can never rule things out, but that (increasing the millage rate) is a last resort," he said.
According to a calendar released this month by county Tax Commissioner Kay Allen, the Board of Education is scheduled to set its millage rate on Oct. 27.
Three percent of the school board's budget equals about $3 million, Sleeper said. The governor also is taking $1.5 million from the system in teacher pay, but the board has the option of furloughing teachers or cutting from somewhere else.
Nagle said he and his staff can cut as much as $1.5 million from the current budget and recover the remainder of the $3 million shortfall by dipping into the school system's $26 million reserve fund.
Another priority for the superintendent is resetting the school calendar prior to the Aug. 10 start date with teacher furloughs included.
By eliminating pre-planning days and staff development days from the school calender, Nagle said the school system can meet the furlough requirement without interrupting instructional time.
Sleeper said he empathizes with the governor's decisions, but laments his timing.
"He can't give us what he doesn't have, but ... I really wish we had known this a couple of months ago," Sleeper said of Perdue. "We could have planned for this."
The school board approved the $173 million budget in May. It is about $3.4 million less than last year's budget, despite the added expense of opening a new high school.
Already school officials have eliminated more than 100 positions to save money.
The school board meeting to discuss further cuts starts at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the school board office on Hereford Farm Road.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.