The DeKalb County School Board has agreed on a list of tentative budget cuts to make up for a nearly $73 million deficit expected next year.
The deficit is due to declining property values resulting in lower taxes collected and increased health care, fuel and utility costs, DeKalb County School District (DCSD) finance officials said. The projected shortfall has caused board members to consider measures it hasn’t enacted since 2003, such as raising taxes by one mil to save approximately $15 million.
“This is really the first step in giving us a balanced budget,” school district spokesman Walter Woods said.
The district released a list May 29 of approximately $75 million in cuts that include 70 central office layoffs totaling a savings of $5 million.
Last month Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson released a restructuring plan that cut approximately 70 central office jobs as well, bringing the total number of central office layoffs in recent weeks to 143 employees.
In addition to the central office cuts and tax increase—which Woods said is the equivalent of “an extra $80 on a $200,000 piece of property,”—media specialists, resource officers and employee health and dental insurance are also on the chopping block.
At a recent public budget hearing, teachers and community members voiced their concerns to the board. Suzanne McKenna spoke in support of the Fernbank Science Center, which was originally slated to close but later taken of the list of cuts.
“I wanted to underscore the importance that this specific facility has in the education of all children in DeKalb. It’s one of the few places that can boast having produced a NASA astronaut, senior partners at law firms, teachers, scientists…you name it,” McKenna said.
The list of budget cuts also includes two furlough days for all employees, which will be added on to the four already in the budget, and increasing class size by one student.
Speaking on behalf of the Organization of DeKalb Educators (ODE), both Lisa Morgan and ODE President David Schutten said the board has been balancing the budget on the backs of its employees for the past several years.
“I know it was suggested to do an across-the-board salary cut, but for some of us, you legally cannot do that because there are teachers in DeKalb County who are only making the minimum state salary…they could go anywhere in the state and make more,” Morgan said. “Morale is at a low point in DeKalb and it has sunk lower than I ever thought it would.”
Employee health and dental insurance cuts are slated to save approximately $7 million and, Schutten said, with the two added furlough days, employees are still receiving what amounts to a 1 percent salary decrease.
“The lowest paid employees are getting hit the hardest with the lack of subsidy. There’s got to be some way to phase that in over two years to give people the time to go out and find part-time jobs, and as they get part-time jobs that’s less energy they have to commit to what their job is during the day, which is working with the children,” Schutten said.
Resident Sanford Scott called for cuts across the board rather than eliminating certain programs. Scott said everyone in the district needs to carry the burden.
“If we spread this pain throughout every line item in our budget…if you go system wide and cut every budget, in every department inside the school system then nobody totally dies,” Scott said.
Woods said there are no budget hearings scheduled until the final June 11 vote. However, he said at that meeting, much like during interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson’s redistricting plan last year that closed eight schools, board members could make any last minute changes before a final vote.
The proposed cuts total approximately $75 million, which leaves $2.3 million in reserves for the district.
Other revised budget cut options Savings
Eliminate bus monitors $4.7 million
Paraprofessional layoffs (200 positions) $7 million
Media specialist layoffs (25) $1.75 million
Eliminate overtime (extra activity pay) $5 million
Eliminate additional magnet allotments $3.64 million