Columbia County schools could cut teacher jobs to save money

Columbia County school officials, facing a tight budget in the next school year, might cut jobs to save money.

Superintendent Charles Nagle suggested today that the school system could eliminate about three dozen teaching positions, mostly through attrition.

The system is operating with $5 million less than initially budgeted this year, he said because of state budget cuts and the elimination of the Homestead Tax Relief Grant.

“Our goal is to finish the school year and get into next year without a deficit,” he said.

Following a morning work session, Mr. Nagle said he believes he can eliminate 37 teaching positions in kindergarten through eighth grades next year through attrition and by planning to fill classrooms to the maximum.

In previous years, school officials accounted for potential pupil growth by hiring enough teachers to keep class sizes below the maximum. However, state lawmakers recently upped the class sizes giving schools more leeway.

Since 90 percent of the school system’s about $176 million budget is payroll, such a move might save about $3 million, Mr. Nagle said.

Other potential position cuts include 10 Internet Technology employees, clerical aids at middle schools and career specialists at high schools.

School officials might also cut furniture purchases, except to meet the needs of the new Grovetown High School, and 10 percent in instructional supplies.

Board Chairwoman Regina Buccafusco stressed that Mr. Nagle was only making suggestions.

“I consider today to be a big think tank,” she said. “Nothing is set in stone.”

Following the elimination of the homestead tax credits, Columbia County commissioners cut 2.6 percent, nearly $1.5 million, out of their about $55 million budget.

Commissioners warned department heads and division directors Thursday that as much or more cuts might be expected next year.

“We do have a difficult, I guess unusual, budget situation,” commission Chairman Ron Cross said.

Reading from a memorandum he sent to county employees last month, Mr. Cross said, “We can’t spend what we don’t have.”

Though the county met projections for an 8-percent growth in the tax digest, projections for growth in sales tax revenues is down 3 percent producing an about $1 million shortfall, county Finance Director Leanne DeLoach said.

To combat the financial crisis, the county has initiated a hiring freeze and might defer or delay many capital requests, according to Mr. Cross’ memo.

Commissioners and school trustees will hold many more budget sessions in the coming weeks before finalizing their respective budgets.

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