Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson and DeKalb County School District staff have proposed several measures to close a projected $73 million budget gap.
In addition to declining property values, the deficit is due to an increase in health care costs and in expenditures for fuel and utilities, district finance officials said.
School officials have proposed increasing the student-to-teacher ratio by three students, which would save approximately $21 million. According to the district’s website, the current maximum class sizes are 22 students for kindergarten; 25 students for grades one - three; 35 students for grades four - eight; and 37 students for grades nine - 12.
The district has also proposed to increase the millage rate by two mils—a step it hasn’t taken since 2003—which would garner approximately $32 million in revenue for the district.
Other factors contributing to the deficit have been in areas where fixed cost expenditures were not accounted for in the district’s budget, or were significantly under budgeted. The district completed a central office reorganization May 21, which will result in the elimination of 73 positions including administrators, secretaries and other staff, saving approximately $5 million. This is the first audit and reorganization of DeKalb Schools’ Central Office in more than 10 years. Officials also recommended the reduction of central office budgets and overtime expenditures to save an additional $15 million.
With the district’s proposed recommendations, the tentative fiscal year budget will be $760 million and it does not change the number of work days for 10-, 11- and 12-month employees. Last year, the tentative budget restored furlough days for 10-, 11- and 12-month employees but later reinstated the days when district officials found out the decline in property tax values in DeKalb County was greater than it had been estimated.
David Schutten, president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators, said if the student-to-teacher ratio is increased, class sizes need to be increased across the board, including at magnet schools.
“There are programs that have been spared—class sizes have remained low in the magnet programs—if they’re going to increase sizes they have to stop subsidizing the other programs,” Schutten said. “Employees have shouldered most of the burden with the budget issues for the past couple years.”
At a recent Budget, Finance and Facilities meeting Schutten said Atkinson made a list of possible cuts, which included suggestions from board members such as eliminating middle school sports programs and the Fernbank Science Center program.
“There’s really no good option at this point,” Schutten said. “They’re projected to have a deficit in the reserve fund at the end of this school year.”
The district will hold a public budget hearing May 30 at 6 p.m. at the district’s Administrative and Instructional Complex at 1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard in Stone Mountain.