News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, March 14, 2012
EVANS, Ga. -- After being creative for the last few years, Columbia County school leaders say they don't have many more options when it comes to budget cuts and once again, your child may pay the price.
Ashley Johnson's 4-year-old son Caleb isn't even in the classroom yet and his education is already being affected next year.
"Education is the most important thing in our child's life. I mean, if they don't have a good education, then they're not going to have a promising future," she said.
On Tuesday board members gave preliminary approval to a plan to let go of 40 teachers and 70 paraprofessionals.
"We've got great, great teachers and paraprofessionals in this school system, but they can't do it for free, and we can't afford to pay them, so we're at a crossroads here making a very, very tough decision," explained Columbia County School Board Vice-Chairman Mike Sleeper.
Teachers leaving and retiring will help make up the gap, but for the first time in years, Columbia County will likely have to lay off employees.
"This is probably one of the worst decisions I've ever had to make because you're talking about somebody's livelihood, somebody's future," Sleeper said.
Johnson said it's scary to hear.
"I have a lot of friends that work in the Columbia County School System. I know a lot of them had furlough days last year and it's kind of scary because they're like ... what's next?" she said.
The move will save about $4.5 million out of a $13 million budget shortfall.
"We don't have the money to keep up with this and education is going to suffer. We've got to find a solution here," Sleeper said.
And the cuts may just be starting.
"Things can change and nothing is for certain other than the fact that we're going to be doing this with more students and fewer educators next year," Sleeper said.
"The child is not going to have the possibility of getting that one-on-one, like a smaller classroom would have," Johnson said.
"It costs money to educate our children and we just don't have enough," Sleeper said.
A final vote on these cuts will come on March 27. Keep in mind there are also drastic increases coming to state health benefit plans next year. We're talking $6,000 per employee.
Of course, they'll be crunching the budget for the next few months, so nothing is 100 percent set or 100 percent safe.