Columbia County school board members on Wednesday likely will adopt a budget of about $165 million that includes millions of dollars in classroom cuts but protects middle school sports.
School officials had suggested cutting track, junior varsity softball, junior varsity baseball, soccer, golf and tennis from middle schools as a cost-saving measure, but backtracked on that proposal last week.
Instead, the school board decided to keep the sports programs for at least the next school year while a study is conducted on the viability of all athletic programs, including at high schools.
Board Chairwoman Regina Buccafusco said the study likely will focus on sports costs and alternative means to provide athletics for interested middle-schoolers.
The cuts were considered to offset a $6 million deficit in next school year's budget because of state cuts. Cutting some middle school sports would save the system about $87,000 in coaching supplements alone, Superintendent Charles Nagle has said.
Nagle showed his frustration during a budget study session last week at "the many" e-mails and complaints he has received from parents protesting the sports cuts when no one has complained about instructional cuts. Including next year's cuts, the system has lost about $21 million from the state since 2007, Nagle said.
To make up revenue deficits, the school system has eliminated hundreds of teaching and paraprofessional positions, has furloughed teachers, increased class sizes, and, most recently, eliminated Spanish-language instruction from middle schools.
"That (middle school sports) is the only thing everyone in the county focused on ... disappoints me," Nagle said.
Also, school officials are considering cutting nearly 60 para-professional teaching positions in elementary schools through attrition by introducing a new teacher to para-pro ratio.
If the school board adopts the measure, schools would be allowed only one para-pro for every three teachers. There are 400 elementary school teachers in the system, allowing for just 138 para-pros. Currently, the school system employs 197 para-pros.
Such a move would save $1.18 million in salaries, which accounts for about 90 percent of the school board's budget.
Even with the cuts, the system still is about $2.8 million over budget. Some of those funds likely will be made up by dipping into the reserve fund of about $30 million.
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