Columbia County cuts pre-K program in half

The number of prekindergarten classes offered in the Columbia County school system will be cut in half starting next school year.

The system currently receives about $1.9 million in state lottery funds to operate 20 pre-K classes for 400 pupils. The school board voted Tuesday to reduce those classes to just 10 for 220 pupils.

Officials were not immediately sure how much Georgia Lottery grant money they will lose because of the cuts.

Elementary schools keeping pre-K are: North Columbia, North Harlem, Euchee Creek, Cedar Ridge, South Columbia, Grovetown, Brookwood and Baker Place. North Harlem and Grovetown will each have two pre-K programs. Those schools were chosen based on need and the lack of day cares in those areas, said Michele Sherman, the district's director of elementary learning.

School officials decided last month to cancel a drawing for pre-K slots after several changes to the program by Gov. Nathan Deal, including eliminating funding for 20 days of instruction and freezing pre-K teacher salaries.

Even with adding 10,000 pre-K slots across the state, Deal's plan saves about $54 million a year, according to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

Sherman said current pre-K teachers likely will be moved into higher elementary grades, where their education level and experience will still count toward their pay. Officials hope to hire new pre-K teachers willing to work at a fixed rate.

Though lottery revenues topped $880 million last year, they fell far short of the more than $1 billion spent on the HOPE scholarships and pre-K programs they fund.

In other business Tuesday, the board voted to wait until at least the 2012-13 school year before reverting from an "integrated" math curriculum to "discrete" math. Officials said there still are too many unknowns regarding a switch back to a more traditional method of instruction, and they want an additional year to better understand the curriculum and train teachers.

Integrated math was introduced to Georgia about five years ago and combines multiple disciplines -- algebra, geometry and calculus -- throughout its sequence. The Richmond County school system has decided to stick with integrated math indefinitely.

Also at the meeting Tuesday, the school board hired a new principal for Greenbrier High School.

Riverside Middle Principal Chris Segraves will replace Margie Hamilton, who submitted a letter of resignation last month.

Hamilton's decision came six months after 14 Greenbrier High teachers accused her of bullying and creating an atmosphere of "constant fear that permeates throughout the staff" in a letter to her, Superintendent Charles Nagle and school board Chairwoman Regina Buccafusco.

It is unclear whether the rift was a factor in Hamilton's decision to resign. Nagle said in March that she chose to leave for "personal reasons."

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