The DeKalb County School Board voted June 6 to approve the $475 million list of items for the Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax (SPLOST) construction projects.
Now, voters must approve the list in November, which would be funded by an added 1 percent sales tax.
Items proposed on the list include the building of seven new elementary schools, installation of new HVAC systems for nearly all the schools in the county and additions and renovations to several.
Board member Nancy Jester was the only member who voted against the plan, citing concerns that she thought the board’s time frame didn’t allow the communities a chance to be well informed about the projects.
“I think they deserve more time to give feedback and we need more time to filter that feedback,” Jester said. “So, I can’t in good conscience vote tonight for this plan…I owe the citizens of DeKalb my principled, honest assessment and I can’t make a judgment about these projects under these circumstances tonight.”
Because of the way boundary lines are drawn, DeKalb, Decatur and Fulton have to vote at the same time and Jester said that it was unfortunate that their time frame was being driven by outside municipalities. However, she said that ultimately the decision to fund the projects would be left to the voters of DeKalb County.
The board also approved the $1.23 billion budget for fiscal year 2011-12. The vote had originally been set for early May but was pushed back when some board members said they wanted extra time to look over it before making the decision to approve it.
Originally, the tentative 2011-12 budget anticipated a $2 billion drop in tax revenue and therefore restored all furlough days for 10- and 11-month employees and limited the number of furlough days for all 12-month employees to four.
However, the county recently discovered that its drop in property values would be closer to $3 billion, which means the DeKalb County School System will receive $15 million less in funding than they anticipated. To make up for the shortfall the board, at Chief Financial Officer Marcus Turk’s discretion, decided to reinstate the furlough days.
Now, 10- and 11-month employees will have four furlough days and 12-month employees will have seven.
David Schutten, president of the Office of DeKalb Educators, said that it was unfortunate that the furlough days were reinstated but he understood why.
“I’m very disappointed; everyone already had their hopes up that they would be taken back out. What I’m hearing is that this is really just precautionary though and they’re going to backload the days,” Schutten said. “The county tax appraiser didn’t get the numbers right and that’s where the big disconnect is.”
Board member Donna Edler moved to raise the millage rate by .5 or 1 mill to minimize the effects of furlough days on teachers and other employees.
“There is an absence of discussion of the mill rate. There is just an aversion to this discussion and I think that to limit that discussion is not giving full consideration of all our options on the table,” Edler told board members.
But Vice Chairman Paul Womack said that he had not voted for a millage raise in 15 years and was not going to break that trend.
“Number one the taxpayers can’t afford it and I think what has been laid out is reasonable and we will revisit those four days and if the economic circumstances warrant it we will consider giving those furlough days back,” Womack said.
The board adopted the tentative 22.98 millage rate, which has been the same for the past nine years. Three public hearings about the rate will be held before the budget comes to the board for final adoption at its July 11 meeting.