Originally created 01/29/97

Trustees OK pre-k in Columbia County



APPLING - Columbia County school trustees approved the lottery-funded pre-kindergarten for next year but cautioned parents that the program's future isn't secure beyond then.

School board members agreed to maintain the program at its current size - 22 classes - so long as space is available and the state funding remains solid. Trustees entered the same debate last year, and the program narrowly survived the ax.

The message Tuesday from the board members was more optimistic but they still cautioned parents to not expect the county to offer the program for 4-year-olds in coming years.

"As the population grows, we're going to be needing those classrooms," said trustee Jean Smith. "I think it would be wise to tell people the possibility of (pre-k) not being there in the future."

The statewide program is funded mostly through lottery money. The only likely way it would be eliminated in Columbia County next year would be for the state funding to change.

The lottery also funds local day-care centers to offer pre-k classes to pupils who can't get into the public school program because of space constraints.

In other business, the school administration projected a lowering of the pupil-to-teacher ratios in middle school for next year.

Officials are targeting an average class size of 26, down from the current 27 at the middle school level. The average class size in elementary school - 26 - and high school - 23 - is expected to remain steady next year.

Assistant Superintendent Tommy Price said middle schools have the largest classes in the system. Mild lowering of class size is a first step in the system's overall goal of improving the pupil-to-teacher ratio, he said.

The board broached this problem during last year's budget process and was unable to make any headway because of financial constraints.

Trustees on Tuesday said they are more optimistic the budget process during the next few months will allow them to meet the class size goals for next year.