The proposed 2010-11 school calendar for Columbia County sets Aug. 5 as the start date for the school year.
A working draft of the new calendar was released Tuesday during a school board meeting. It establishes May 20 as the last day of school and graduation ceremonies will be held May 21.
Also included in the calendar is a week off for Thanksgiving, introduced last year as a means to accommodate furlough days. The longer holiday proved to be popular with parents, Superintendent Charles Nagle told the board.
To save money, Gov. Sonny Perdue required educators to take six unpaid days off this school year. Perdue can't dictate to school systems that they furlough teachers, but he can deny those systems the state funding to pay their salaries for those days.
Columbia County officials instead redistributed more than $2 million in their budget to keep teachers working four of those days.
Next year's calendar includes flexibility in case more furloughs are demanded.
Nagle said he has earmarked five non-instructional days that can be used for furloughs.
Forcing teachers to take off any more days than that "demoralizes their profession," he said.
Also at the meeting, school trustees gave tentative approval to a plan that eliminates 11 full-time teaching positions and one part-time teaching position next school year.
Though officials expect student enrollment to grow by at least 500 next year, the position cuts were necessary because of an expected shortfall in state funding. Nagle said that eliminating those positions will save the school system about $750,000 in payroll expenses.
Facing a similar cut in state spending last year, school officials decided to eliminate 100 positions, including about 70 teacher and paraprofessional positions, to save about $5.5 million.
Those positions were lost even though the number of students grew by more than 500 to an overall population of nearly 23,000.
An increase in maximum class sizes by the state lessened the need for more teachers. Class size limits increased by two pupils this school year, allowing 20 pupils in kindergarten classes, 21 in first through third grades, 28 in fourth through eighth grades, and 30 in high school classes.
A similar increase in class size limits is expected for next school year.
Nagle stressed that the calendar and teaching positions are subject to change. Both will depend on the actions of the state legislature.
State lawmakers continue to scramble to overcome a shortfall of about $1 billion in tax revenues. Last week, officials announced that tax collections were down 9.9 percent compared with February 2009.
Nagle has said that he expects at least an $8 million cut in state funding for next school year.
The Columbia County school system has lost about $14 million in recent years due to state budget cuts.
Board members Mickie Blackburn and Roxanne Whitaker advocated that parents protest more education cuts to legislators.
"I don't think anything the Legislature has done in the past two years has been in the best interest of the children," Whitaker said.
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