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School officials ask lawmakers to fight state cuts

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Money, and the lack of it, was the primary focus of a meeting Tuesday between Columbia County school officials and state lawmakers.

The school system has lost more than $13.8 million in state funding since last school year, Superintendent Charles Nagle told legislators.

Despite the lost funding, Mr. Nagle said the school system has been able to maintain a high instruction level thanks to about $5.7 million in federal stimulus funds and position cuts.

However, additional state cuts might be more than the school system can handle.

"We've cut into our local funds as deep as we can cut into them without affecting instruction," Mr. Nagle said.

Lawmakers didn't offer much consolation that more education cuts won't be coming once a new legislative session convenes in January.

State Rep. Lee Anderson, R-Grovetown, said legislators are looking to trim the state budget by $300 million next year. Already, Gov. Sonny Perdue has cut about $900 million.

Though education funding will be protected more than anything else, said state Sen. Bill Jackson, R-Appling, there is no guarantee additional cuts won't be necessary.

"We're going to go up there in January with a loaded wagon, and we're not always going to make a good decision," Mr. Jackson said.

"You've got to know that everything is on the table this year."

School board Chairwoman Regina Buccafusco said she has heard rumors Mr. Perdue might require educators to take another five furlough days next semester. The lawmakers said they've not heard any such rumors and don't know if furloughs will be considered.

Mr. Perdue mandated that educators take three furlough days this semester to save money. Columbia County school officials only furloughed teachers for two days and cut the cost of the remaining furlough day from elsewhere in their budget.

Mr. Nagle suggested other alternatives in case teacher furloughs are considered during the next session.

Freezing salary step increases, eliminating sales tax holidays and taxing Internet sales are all preferable to cutting teacher pay through furloughs, he said.


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