The DeKalb County School Board voted June 21 on a budget that will raise taxes and cut more than 400 jobs to close an anticipated budget shortfall of $85 million.
The school board approved approximately $93 million in cuts that include central office personnel layoffs, reducing paraprofessionals by 200 and increasing the millage rate by 1 mill.
DeKalb Schools spokesman Walter Woods said the tax increase would amount to a homeowner with a $200,000 property paying approximately $80 more each year in taxes. However, it’s a move the school board hasn’t taken since 2003. The tax increase, which will raise an estimated $14.8 million in additional revenue, brings the district’s local millage rate to 24 mills—the voter-approved limit is 25.
Board chairman Eugene Walker said he thinks the board did a good job of balancing the budget and sharing in the sacrifices that had to be made, but agreed it was a difficult process.
“I think we’ve got a good budget with a small cushion in it,” Walker said. “What people don’t really understand is that Superintendent [Cheryl Atkinson] and the board looked at every possibility to increase revenue.”
Walker said the biggest contributing factor to the deficit the district faced this year is the significant reduction in ad valorem tax values. He said recently the Georgia Senate passed a bill that required including foreclosed properties into the formula used to calculate county property tax values, which has significantly reduced values.
“We can’t cut our way out of that,” Walker said. “Certainly, this year was much more difficult than most and I hope the legislature will revisit that formula.”
Additionally, the board also voted to increase class sizes by two students to save an estimated $14 million and increase the cost of employee health and dental benefits for approximately $6.7 million in savings.
President of the Organization of DeKalb Educators David Schutten said the cuts could have been much worse. However, Schutten said the increase in employee insurance subsidies will impact the district’s lowest-paid employees more than others.
“My concern is that it’s a double whammy,” Schutten said. “It’s going to put more people near the poverty line and there are already some lower paid teachers that have second jobs.”
One thing the board didn’t do that Schutten said he is grateful for is outsourcing the 641 custodians that work for the district. He said other school districts, such as the Atlanta Public School System, have had problems in recent years with contractors hiring illegal immigrants and not performing thorough background checks.
“We tried that back in the 90s and it didn’t work,” Schutten said. “The most controversial thing is going to be the millage increase.”