The Columbia County school board granted preliminary approval Tuesday to a plan to cut more than 40 educator positions and nearly 70 teacher aides for next school year.
The cuts will come up for final approval at the next board meeting, scheduled for March 27. The preliminary vote Tuesday was unanimous.
The educator cuts represent just a fraction of the school system’s more than 1,600 teachers, counselors and administrators.
If the plan is approved at the next meeting, however, more than one-third of the teacher aides, also called paraprofessionals, would be eliminated. Just 131 paraprofessionals would remain next school year to assist teachers in elementary grades.
The cuts would save the cash-strapped school system nearly $4.5 million in personnel costs, Superintendent Charles Nagle said.
The school system is facing a $13 million cut in state funding for the 2012-13 school year.
Nagle said during a January budget meeting that $4 million in savings from the current school year should help bridge the gap and that he hopes growth in the county’s tax digest might make up an additional $2 million to cover the system’s nearly $175 million budget.
Although school officials expect the population to grow by nearly 390 pupils next year, increased class sizes should offset that growth and allow for the teacher cuts.
Paraprofessionals primarily are funded with local tax money, rather than by the state, meaning their elimination would save more local money, even though their salaries are not as high as those of teachers.
Teacher aides in Columbia County make an average of $16,000 each year, but the school system must pay an additional $6,000 next year in state-mandated benefits for each one.
Nagle said that he hopes to handle any personnel cuts through attrition but that layoffs might be necessary.
“This is a hard cut for me and hard cut for you,” Nagle told the board.
Columbia County, he said, is one of the few school systems in Georgia to employ teacher aides beyond the kindergarten level.
“We’re one of the last hold-ons,” Nagle said, referring to paraprofessionals in higher grades. “We’re slipping off the edge.”