The Columbia County school board adopted a budget Wednesday that is more than $3 million short of what it intends to spend.
The board gave tentative approval to a budget that projects about $165.1 million in revenues and about $168.6 million in expenditures.
School officials intend to dip into their reserve fund and take about $3.5 million to balance next fiscal year's budget. The board already has approved pulling $1.5 million from the reserve fund to balance the current budget.
Those withdrawals drop the reserves to $26 million. The school board can't pull any more from the fund without dropping below the 15 percent limit the state requests local governments to maintain.
School officials said they had to pull from reserves to compensate for a $6 million loss in state funding without making more cuts. The school system already has eliminated 17 teaching positions, two counseling positions and middle school Spanish-language instruction. It has cut funding for instructional supplies by 10 percent and included five furlough days into next year's school calendar.
Officials had considered cutting some middle school sports programs and eliminating nearly 70 paraprofessional teaching positions, but backed off on those options for at least one more year. In fact, money is included in the new budget to hire as many as 15 more paraprofessionals, but they will be expected to act as substitute teachers more often as the need arises.
Last year, the board eliminated about 100 teaching and paraprofessional positions through attrition and class size increases to make up for lost state funding.
Since 2007, the board has lost about $21 million in state funding even as the system's student population grew by more than 1,000.