Columbia County school board approves preliminary budget

Columbia County school board on Tuesday put its initial stamp of approval on a balanced budget for next year that draws heavily from reserves and cuts the number of educators.

The board also approved hiring two principals for next school year.

Several weeks of discussions on the $173 million budget focused on making up for a $13 million cut in state funding. The board made up for last year’s funding reductions with a half-mill tax increase, but this year’s budget balances without a tax increase and without furloughing employees.

“That reflects a full school year without furloughs and without a reduced calendar,” Superintendent Charles Nagle said.

Much of the money – more than $7.5 million – comes from the school system’s reserves, Nagle said. That reserve is used to maintain the system’s cash flow as it pays employees until the year’s tax receipts and state funding arrive.

An additional $5 million in cuts came in March, when the board approved Nagle’s plan to eliminate about 35 certified teaching positions and nearly 70 teacher’s assistants. Those cuts required the system to obtain a waiver from the state to allow slightly larger class sizes.

The remaining gaps will be filled with cuts in maintenance, fuel and other areas, along with an anticipated reduction in electricity bills from Georgia Power Co. and an expected 2.5 percent increase in the county’s tax digest, which has not been made final, Nagle said.

The board approved penciling in three furlough days for next year’s calendar that could be used if the planned expense reductions fall short.

Final approval of the budget is expected at the board’s June 12 meeting.

Because the school system will accept the increase in revenues from higher property assessments, state law requires the board to hold hearings to announce that tax rates won’t be rolled back to compensate for those reassessments.

Those hearings, at the school board office on Hereford Farm Road in Evans, are set for 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. July 10 and 8 a.m. July 24.

The new principals named Tuesday are Stephanie Reese, who replaces the retiring Brenda Jones at Brookwood Elementary, and Laura Hughes, taking over for the retiring Kay Sanders at North Columbia Elementary.

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