State budget worries Columbia County schools

Columbia County school officials are nervous as the General Assembly prepares to reconvene this month.

Millions more dollars likely will be slashed in the state's budget by lawmakers this year, and county Superintendent Charles Nagle believes education funding will become a victim.

"Until (state) legislators meet in January and the economy picks up, we are at a standstill with any planning other than school as usual," Mr. Nagle wrote in an e-mail. "My immediate concern is building next year's budget."

During a meeting last month with state lawmakers, Mr. Nagle said any more state cuts will affect instruction. The system has already lost $13.8 million in state funding. Were it not for $5.7 million in federal stimulus funds, Mr. Nagle said, instruction already would be affected.

State Rep. Ben Harbin, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, warned Columbia County officials in November that legislators are looking to trim $350 million from the budget. Those estimates rose to $700 million last month. Gov. Sonny Perdue already has slashed the budget by about $900 million to counteract dwindling tax revenue. Though Mr. Harbin did not specifically say education funds, which make up about half of the state budget, would be cut, he did say there is no "sacred cow."

However, state Sen. Bill Jackson recently attempted to assure school officials that education cuts will be considered last.

Lawmakers also told school officials they have not discussed more teacher furloughs, but last month the school board changed the second-semester calendar to give teachers Monday off. The semester starts Tuesday, but teachers typically arrive a day early.

Should Mr. Perdue require more furloughs, Mr. Nagle said he intends to use Monday to cover at least one of those days.

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