Furloughs, higher taxes are options

Columbia County school officials considered several options Tuesday -- including raising taxes and furloughing teachers -- to make up more than $7.6 million in state and federal budget cuts.


Raising property taxes by 1 mill could produce as much as $3.8 million in added revenue, according to data presented to the school board during a budget meeting.

The same data showed that furloughing teachers might save the school system about $3.5 million, though officials said they are reluctant to consider it after sticking teachers with four furlough days this school year.

"My goal ... was for no furlough days and 180 days of school," Superintendent Charles Nagle said of the 2011-12 budget preparation. "I don't see how we can get that. I never anticipated anything this bad."

It started off much worse.

The proposed $178.8 million budget for next school year initially had an estimated revenue shortfall of more than $16 million. By using about $8.6 million in federal stimulus and building funds held in reserve, school officials were able to cut the shortfall by more than half.

Other options to make up the deficit might include cutting paraprofessional teachers for first and second grades, cutting some school nursing positions, increasing class sizes, eliminating raises for all employees except teachers, and cutting the school calendar five days and making up that class time by extending school hours on other days.

The board made no decision Tuesday and will probably discuss a combination of the options when it meets next Tuesday to take up the budget. Officials hope to give initial approval of the budget May 24.

To make up for previous budget shortfalls, the board already had eliminated more than 100 teaching and paraprofessional positions, raised class sizes and furloughed teachers.

The school system has lost more than $20 million in state funding since 2007, including a $6 million cut in 2010, despite a student population growth of more than 1,600.

Nagle said that equates to about $500 less spent on educating each pupil in the school system.

Last year, expenditures exceeded expected revenues by about $3.5 million, forcing the board to dip into its reserve fund to make up the difference.



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