The budget axe is falling on four schools and the central office staff in DeKalb County where Superintendent Crawford Lewis announced Friday, “We can no longer afford to operate schools which are at half capacity.” Lewis said he will pare his cabinet back from 27 administrators to about 12, a move that should placate critics who contend that the central office is full of people who don’t have a real impact on student learning in the county.
The financially struggling DeKalb school system – the deficit is now at $88 million from state cuts and falling revenue — will name the four elementary schools that will close next week, choosing from among 29 schools with enrollments of less than 300 students.
According to the AJC story on DeKalb:
District officials are eyeing schools in south DeKalb now that Dunwoody has become the fastest-growing area of the county, Lewis said.
The Citizens Planning Task Force, a group of 20 residents appointed by school board members, will work with school officials to make a recommendation on which schools to close. The board will then vote on the final closings, school system spokesman Dale Davis said.
Last year, DeKalb’s enrollment grew by about 1,500 students to 101,000 children.
The school closings will allow the district to save about $2.5 million. Teachers from those schools will move with their students and be allowed to keep their jobs, but some other staff may be affected, Davis said.
The closings will mean the district will have to redraw the attendance boundaries and reroute buses before school starts in August.
The school closures are part of a systemwide trimming to meet a loss in state funding and property tax revenue.
“We are working really, really hard not to raise anyone’s taxes,” Lewis said.
Last month, Lewis proposed a series of program cuts, staff furloughs and other reductions to meet what officials thought was a $56 million deficit. He now is scrambling to identify $32 million more to cut from next year’s budget after learning the county’s property values dove 6.7 percent.
“This year’s budget will go back to the figure we had in 2005. That kind of tells you exactly how bad things are,” Lewis said.
Lewis said he will unveil those additional proposed cuts next Friday.
The district has about 14,000 full-time employees, including 8,000 teachers.
The proposed administrative cuts come less than a week after the AJC reported that the district posted a job to replace a deputy superintendent of teaching and learning for $163,900 while calling for teacher pay cuts.
The other staff in his cabinet will see pay cuts, Lewis said.
However, the superintendent does not plan to give back the $15,000 raise and contract extension that the board approved in January. Lewis told business leaders that the raise comes after he lost $30,000 in salary and bonuses last year.
“I don’t think $15,000 is going to have a profound impact on an $88 million deficit,” he added.
DeKalb’s actions are likely to be repeated around the state as all systems face unprecedented deficits. To cut costs, Gwinnett County has just scheduled three furlough days for employees next school year and will raise class size by one student, according to the AJC.
Can we still see academic gains with this level of budget crisis?