Even though they are more than a year away, the Columbia County school board on Tuesday approved calendars for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.
School board members had already given initial approval of the calendars March 13 following a lengthy discussion regarding the start dates. Both calendars list the first day of school as Aug. 7.
In 2013, Aug. 7 is a Wednesday. It falls on a Thursday in 2014.
Unhappy with mid-week start dates, school board member Mike Sleeper pushed for Monday start dates — Aug. 12 in 2013 and Aug. 11 in 2014 — at the previous meeting.
Board member Kristi Baker agreed with Sleeper, and both voted against the calendars earlier this month.
On Tuesday, the board unanimously approved both calenders with no debate.
Superintendent Charles Nagle told the board earlier that the Aug. 7 start date allows teachers to start preplanning on Aug. 1, the latest date new teachers can start work and still receive immediate health care benefits. Any later, and new teachers must wait until October to get those benefits.
Sleeper had proposed starting preplanning n Aug. 1 but still waiting to start school at the later dates.
However, the majority of the board disagreed.
Also at the meeting, the board gave final approval to cutting more than 40 educator positions and nearly 70 teacher aides for next school year.
Although the school system still will have more than 1,600 teachers, the cuts limit teacher aide positions to just 131.
Salaries for teacher aides, also called paraprofessionals, primarily are funded with local tax dollars, rather than by the state, which does provide the bulk of funding for teachers. Cutting paraprofessional jobs thus saves the school system more money.
Facing a $13 million cut in state funding next school year, Nagle previously told the board the position cuts will save the school system about $4.5 million.
Paraprofessionals in Columbia County make on average $16,000 each year, but the school system also must pay next year an additional $6,000 in state-mandated benefits for each one.
Nagle said this month he hopes enough teachers and paraprofessionals resign or retire this school year to avoid layoffs, but he didn’t rule out that possibility.