More than 600 new students are projected to further crowd the hallways of Columbia County schools next year.
At a recent county school board meeting, School Superintendent Tommy Price said he is projecting an enrollment growth of 610 pupils for the 2006-07 school year.
That means more portable classrooms, more teachers and more money, he said.
"At this point, we have no alternative other than purchasing additional portable classrooms to carry us through next year," Mr. Price said in an interview Wednesday.
Currently, the system uses about 100 portables and recently negotiated to buy 20 more by the start of the next school year.
During the next few years, Mr. Price expects the growth trend to continue.
Unfortunately, he said, the state doesn't allocate funding based on projections. It only allocates based on the current student population, meaning a school system must already be overcrowded before seeing more state dollars for operations and building.
The policy makes portables a necessity, Mr. Price said.
"If we continue to grow between 700 and 800 kids each year, it's going to be difficult to get out of using mobile classrooms," he said. "Actually, we're not going to get out of it. It's a reality."
The growth also requires adding about 30 new teaching positions, Mr. Price said.
About 90 percent of the system's $135 million budget is used to pay personnel costs.
"We build the budget based on these projections," Mr. Price said. "You've got to determine how many teachers you're going to likely need, and that's based on the projected enrollment."
More pupils also means budgeting more money for supplies.
"We give the schools more money if they have more students based on so much per each student for supplies," said Pat Sullivan, the school system's controller. "It means getting more textbooks, more desks, furniture, but the biggest overall cost is the teachers' salaries and benefits."
Mr. Price and his staff are currently working to project growth at each school, but that could take at least another week, he said.
This school year, the system grew by 834 pupils, about 200 more than projected. Mr. Price called this an "aberration" and feels confident with his 610 figure.
Reach Donnie Fetter at 868-1222, ext. 113, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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