Schools show thanks with food

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The Columbia County school board thanked its business partners Tuesday by playing host to a breakfast at Brandon Wilde in Evans.

Without business partners, the school system would be unable to conduct such annual events as the Teacher of the Year Banquet, a new teacher orientation or a reception for retiring teachers, Superintendent Charles Nagle said.

"We do not get taxpayer dollars to do those activities," he said.

Last school year, the system received more than $100,000 from business partners. During this school year, about 80 business partners have donated more than $84,000 in monetary and in-kind contributions, said Public Relations Director Karen Ribble.

"In-kind contributions come from businesses like John Deere, who donated two engines worth $10,000 to the automotive classes at Evans and Harlem (high schools)," Ms. Ribble said.

During tough economic times, those business relationships become more meaningful, Mr. Nagle said.

The system lost about $2.5 million in state funding when Gov. Sonny Perdue nixed the Homestead Tax Relief Grant. It could lose up to $10 million more if lawmakers cut 6 to 10 percent more from the state education budget, Mr. Nagle said.

"The economy has played a big role in all of our lives," he said. "We're waiting anxiously to find out what our fate is going to be."

At the breakfast meeting, Mr. Nagle said he encourages educators in the system to patronize Columbia County businesses because it is those 1-cent sales tax dollars that support school construction projects.

Stallings Island Middle School, which opened in August, cost about $20 million, Mr. Nagle said. The state contributed just $5.8 million to the project.

"We would not have been able to open that school were it not for the local participation," he said.

Also, a healthy school system contributes to a healthy area economy, Mr. Nagle said.

As Columbia County's largest employer -- with more than 3,300 people -- 90 percent of the school system's $180 million budget is earmarked for salaries.

"Those are the kinds of things we're putting back into the community," Mr. Nagle said.

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.

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