DeKalb Schools Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson told a DeKalb County grand jury that the school district, due to pending litigation, will be spending $6 million more than anticipated this year.
Last year, Atkinson told the grand jury that the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) accrued legal fees in excess of $3 million over its budget. She told jurors that the budget for the 2012-13 school year will need to be adjusted.
Currently, the district employs two legal teams and is involved in a lawsuit with construction firm Heery International, which has cost the district more than $30 million to date. The trial is expected to begin in February.
Heery first filed suit against DCSD, alleging the district owed the company outstanding invoices from when it managed the SPLOST construction projects from 1997-2006. DCSD then countersued for $100 million, alleging fraud and mismanagement during the period Heery managed construction projects. The lawsuit was filed in 2007.
“A lot of that additional anticipated expense is for the upcoming jury trial with Heery International but it has been added as a line item into the budget,” said Jeff Dickerson, a spokesman for DeKalb schools.
By state law, a balanced budget is due Sept. 30 and Dickerson said the district will meet that deadline. However, he said when Atkinson was going over the budget she found that in previous years, officials weren’t budgeting based on past expenses, which is the cause of the additional $3 million last year and the $6 million for the coming year.
“We don’t know that it’s going to be that high but if it is we’ll have a budgeted line item for it,” Dickerson said of the expenses for the looming trial.
Some contend one of the reasons the civil case involving the district and Heery International has yet to be tried in court is because officials are waiting for the outcome of the criminal trial involving former Superintendent Crawford Lewis, former Chief Operating Officer Patricia Reid and her ex-husband Tony Pope.
All three have been charged with running a criminal enterprise within the school system. Lewis has been charged with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), theft by taking by a government employee and bribery. Pope and Reid face similar charges.
In 2010, a grand jury returned an indictment alleging Lewis, former schools construction chief Reid and her ex-husband Pope conspired to defraud the school district of approximately $2.4 million through illegal construction contracts.
Reid allegedly used her role as the district’s construction chief to award contracts to then husband Pope. According to officials and court documents, Lewis signed off on contracts and knowingly participated in the conspiracy.
The trial was scheduled to begin mid-September but officials from the District Attorney’s Office said it has been pushed backed for several more weeks.