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School system has room to grow
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The Effingham County School System is growing, and it has the room to grow, Superintendent Randy Shearouse said.

Shearouse delivered his state of the school system at Thursday’s board of education meeting, also proclaiming the system has not had to layoff employees to make up for budget problems. Test scores also continue to move up, Shearouse said, which is good news for the system’s students.
Enrollment last week was 11,403 students, up from a count of 11,265 students in February 2008.

“In a time where most school districts are not growing, we are,” Shearouse said.

Blandford Elementary, built for 750 students, currently has an enrollment of 762.

“They can house those students,” Shearouse said, noting the school is making use of available space there. “Elsewhere, we have room to grow. As a district, space-wise, we’re in pretty good shape.”

The county’s two high schools were each built to hold 2,000 students. Effingham County High has 1,815 students, and South Effingham High has an enrollment of 1,505.

The new Effingham County Middle School, which is 142,000 square feet, cost $18 million to build. With a capacity of 1,200 students, the school has 684 students enrolled. Ebenezer Middle School is the largest of the county’s three middle schools with an enrollment of 996. That school was built to handle a student population of 1,120.

The school system also owns land on Fort Howard Road where it could build another school if needed, Shearouse said.

But there are concerns with the capacity at the schools and the money from the state the system gets based on how full the schools are.

The system has paid off every building except for Marlow Elementary School, which was a lease-purchase arrangement, and is retiring the 1 mill school bond tax levy.

Effingham’s schools budget received $58 million in quality basic education funding from the state for 2008-09 and that figure is expected to be $53.8 million for 2009-10. The school system is holding its receipts from local property taxes at $26.4 million. The school board also is rolling back the millage.

The school system has 1,732 employees, with 939 of them certified staff. Of that total, 785 are teachers.

“We are the largest employer in the county,” Shearouse said. “Even with the reduction in state funds, we have not had to lay off any employees. It seems like we’ve been working on the budget all year. It’s been a moving target for us.”

About 90 percent of the school system’s budget is tied up in personnel expenses, so the worry is that more budget cuts could mean having to look at personnel.

“Hopefully we will not have to make many too many more cuts so we can keep moving forward,’ said BoE Chairman Lamar Allen.

More than 80 percent of the school system’s employees live in the county, according to the superintendent.

“That’s important to the local economy,” he said. “They feel strongly enough in our school system to live here.”

On average, school cafeteria workers provide 2,639 breakfasts and 8,019 lunches each day throughout the system. The schools spend $188,339 per month on food and have been able to reduce those costs, Shearouse noted.

He also explained that Effingham spends less per student than many other neighboring systems. Chatham County spends $1,277.98 more per student than does Effingham, which spends $8,387.06 per student. Atlanta’s school system spends more than $13,000 per student. Burke County’s spending per student also tops $10,000.

“We are below the state average in expenditures,” Shearouse said.

There are 194 school bus routes, with more than 8,000 students taking the bus each day to and from school. With fuel prices at $2.17 a gallon for the school system, the board is spending about $64,000 a month on fuel.

“Transportation alone is a big operation,” Shearouse said.