More Columbia pupils, fewer teachers projected

Columbia County school officials expect to educate more pupils with fewer teachers next school year.

On Tuesday, the school board approved student and teacher projections in elementary and middle schools that estimate as many as 287 more pupils in those grades for the 2010-11 school year.

But the projections call for seven fewer teachers.

Nearly 16,200 pupils are expected to attend the county's elementary and middle schools next year, and they will be instructed by about 700 teachers.

The figures are based on the maximum number of pupils allowed by the state in each class. Twenty pupils are allowed in kindergarten classes, 21 in first through third grades and 28 in fourth through eighth grades.

Superintendent Charles Nagle also expects, as he did this school year, that Gov. Sonny Perdue will increase the maximum by two pupils in each grade level.

"We're trying to make every class as tight as we can," he said.

Mr. Nagle said he expects to lose as much as $8 million in state money as a result of budget cuts next school year. The system has already lost $13.8 million in state funds since last school year.

The system largely compensated for those cuts by increasing class sizes and eliminating 100 positions.

Though class sizes increased this year, many still did not reach the state maximum. That's why the school system can project enrolling more pupils while hiring fewer teachers, Mr. Nagle explained.

Board member Roxanne Whitaker worried that classes of 30 pupils would "diminish education opportunities because we're trying to cram kids into classrooms."

Though he acknowledged Mrs. Whitaker's concerns, Mr. Nagle said teachers are performing well this year and that he expects them to do as well next year.

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.

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