Columbia County school officials said Tuesday that they might restore some pay teachers lost because of furloughs with funds from a federal grant.
Superintendent Charles Nagle told school board members that the system recently was awarded a $4.2 million grant from the Federal Education Jobs Fund Program.
The program, he said, is meant to restore jobs and improve pay and benefits many teachers lost during the current economic downturn, which created revenue shortages for many states.
With the grant, Nagle said, he hopes to restore two furlough days of the five cut from teachers' pay before the start of the school year as a cost-saving measure.
Wary of more possible state funding cuts, officials were reluctant to immediately restore funding for the furlough days and likely won't decide until December.
School board members expressed concern that state lawmakers might institute further furlough days for teachers as the school year progresses.
"We need to be wary of what's coming out of Atlanta between now and then," board member Mike Sleeper said.
The school system has already suffered a cut of about $6 million in state funding for this year. The five furlough days helped offset some of those shortages, but officials still expect to dip into their reserve of more than $30 million to make up the shortfall of about $4 million.
In addition to the cuts, state lawmakers increased by 3 percent the local burden for teacher benefits earlier this year. Local school systems have to pay 21 percent of benefits for three months. Nagle said he learned last week that state officials extended the period to pay the higher percentage of benefits for another six months.
Also, Nagle said, lawmakers insisted that school systems pay benefits for all teachers and administrators, including those not receiving any.
In all, the added expense for employee benefits will cost the school system about $900,000, he said. Some of the grant money might be used to help cover those costs.
Despite the financial situation, Nagle said he hopes he and his staff can reserve at least $1.3 million in grant money to eliminate two furlough days. Already, central office staff are working on a new school calendar that adds those days back in.
Also at the meeting, officials revealed that the school system grew by 458 pupils this year for a total enrollment of 23,288. That is just three more than initially projected by school officials.
The schools with the most growth were Evans Middle, with 66 more pupils than projected, and Greenbrier Middle, with 47 more students.
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