DeKalb school board: We can save Fernbank and middle school sports but only with a tax hike

The AJC reports that the DeKalb school board spent four hours last night debating how to close a $73 million deficit. Teachers won’t like the proposed solutions. Nor will many parents. And probably few taxpayers.

As has become the strategy of most ailing metro districts, DeKalb Schools will dig itself out of its serious financial bind by raising class size, shortening the school year, dumping teacher aides and adding teacher furlough days. It will also make employees pay more of their health care tab.

However, DeKalb is also looking at a $30 million tax increase in a county coping with record foreclosures, high employment and increasing frustration with the cost and size of district administration.

According to the AJC:

One by one, the board members went down a list of 33 potential cuts. After several tries over about four hours, they theoretically balanced the budget. A majority wanted teacher furlough days, fewer teacher positions resulting in higher teacher-student ratios and a one-mill increase in the tax rate. No formal vote was taken. .

Tax revenue continues to fall in DeKalb while costs for essentials such as employee healthcare continue to rise. . The school board adopted a tentative budget that cut away more than half of the $73 million deficit. But, the rest of that budget proposal was balanced using a $30 million tax increase, double what the board proposed Tuesday..

The board needs a balanced budget in place before the next fiscal year begins July 1.

The board is likely to find ardent advocates of any program it seeks to cut. For example, advocates of the Fernbank Science Center took up a petition to save the institution and its $4.7 million budget after it was added to the chopping block last week.

On Tuesday, board members took the Fernbank closure off the table. In an unofficial poll, they also scrapped the idea of saving $330,000 by eliminating middle school sports and saving $5 million by outsourcing custodians. They added cuts to health and dental insurance subsidies for employees for a savings of nearly $7 million, agreed to eliminate 200 teachers’ aides for another $7 million and supported cutting the school system’s pre-kindergarten program expenditures of $2.7 million.

Should all of them agree to the collection of cuts and tax increases, then class sizes will rise by an average of one student per teacher, and the school calendar will be two days shorter. Board member Tom Bowen introduced the proposal to increase taxes while cutting teachers and school days. He said the one mill increase should be rolled back by 2015.

DeKalb is in an unusually deep financial hole. Finance officials say the school system is on track to end the fiscal year with a $6 million deficit. That debt would have to be paid out of the next year’s budget, deepening the budget gap beyond $73 million. It also means the budget crisis won’t be cushioned with reserves, like in year’s past or in other metro school systems.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

149 comments Add your comment

BT

May 30th, 2012
9:42 am

What a mess…all school systems are in this perdicament. They are having to do less with less and at the end of the day, student achievement will be affected!!

Understanding Atlanta

May 30th, 2012
9:48 am

This is getting a bit disheartening. There has to be ways to save the system money without so many negative impacts on students. Why was the outsourcing of custodians taken off the table? What about a realignment of administrators in the schools to match the student population? What about re-structuring the county office to eliminate overlapping positions and streamlining the hierarchy? I’m sure they could find the savings there without having to negatively impact teachers and students.

Dunwoody Mom

May 30th, 2012
9:48 am

Yep, students will have less instruction hours and more students in a class, teachers will have their pay decreased & and increase in their insurance premiums, our taxes will go up, but hey – the BOE in all of their brillance saved a building and a program that benefits very few of DCSD students. What should be even more insulting to our teachers is that the 28 “instructors” at FSC made over $2 million in salaries last school year and 11 of those “instructors” don’t even have Teaching Certificates on file. Woo Hoo!!! This “new day in DeKalb” sure looks like the old days. Let’s make sure the special few are taken care of at the expense of the rest of our students.

Van Jones

May 30th, 2012
9:50 am

How many Dekalb school board positions were cut and how much was the cut to the remaining board members’ salary? Seems like everyone should have some skin in the game.

Rural Education

May 30th, 2012
9:52 am

The same story everywhere, Bartow county has shortened the school year by five days and added two furlough days to that. The Republican led statehouse is accomplishing its goal of destroying public education.

Hurricane

May 30th, 2012
9:55 am

I know all school districts are presently undergoing financial difficulties at this time, but a lot of DeKalb’s deficit is self inflicted because of incompetent management.

Two Cents

May 30th, 2012
9:57 am

And much more can be saved by getting rid of more bloat at the Palace and getting rid of the School Board and leave the things alone that takes from teachers and students.

A Conservative Voice

May 30th, 2012
10:01 am

OK, once again……folks, tax increases are not the answer. These will just be spent without any thought of reducing expenses which is what should happen. I know y’all are tired of reading this but, the solution is to rid the DCSS of the Transportation System or require the users to pay their fair share…..folks, this is only fair……I mean why should all the citizens of DeKalb County pay extra taxes when there’s a solution that is available that does not call for them. You know, if tax revenues decrease, expenses should also…….DCSS is a business enterprise and should be managed as such…….you can only raise taxes so much before the citizens rebel……and it’s getting mighty close.

Bill & Ed's Excellent Adventure

May 30th, 2012
10:01 am

About a year ago, Ramona Tyson stated how “robust” the DCSS financial position was. So robust in fact, the system was in a position to roll back teacher furloughs. Meanwhile, Dekalb taxpayers are in the hole for over $50 million in legal fees because Paul Womack didn’t want to pay a $1 million construction invoice and his cohorts on the Board went along blindly…meanwhile, oops we forgot to budget for bond interest due on SPLOST projects. Add that to the bloat and nepotism in the central office, which NO ONE is willing to address, and there’s your budget deficit folks.

I wouldn’t mind paying an extra school tax if the money wasn’t being handled by utterly incompetent bureaucrats who were only interested in maintaining the status quo. ALL of this could have been avoided.

Dr. Phil

May 30th, 2012
10:01 am

Put administrators into the classroom.

dcss failing

May 30th, 2012
10:02 am

@ Hurricane:

Amen….SELF-INFLICTED is right! Time are tough all over, but when I think of all the legal fees and waste and bloat and lack of planning and incompetence and corruption in DCSD it makes me sick.

Road Scholar

May 30th, 2012
10:05 am

Cut admin staff, esp at headquarters. Did they cut the positions identified in the manpower reports? Reduce the boards salary and operating budget. If you can do a good job, you may not be worth the money that is budgeted for your work.

Aquagirl

May 30th, 2012
10:05 am

the BOE in all of their brillance saved a building and a program that benefits very few of DCSD students.

Good news for you Dunwoody Mom…the decision isn’t final, so there’s still time to cheerlead for flushing Fernbank Science Center down the toilet.

Teacher

May 30th, 2012
10:05 am

What a surprise! I guess teachers will end up getting the 6.25% pay cut listed on our contracts after all. So much for the empty promises that this would be adjusted.

Lane Meyers

May 30th, 2012
10:09 am

Are media specialists and paras still on the chopping block?

Bill & Ed's Excellent Adventure

May 30th, 2012
10:10 am

@Aquagirl & Dunwoody Mom…I think the greater question re: Fernbank Science Center is why does it cost DCSS $4.7 million to operate it? Before we vote to just shutter another local landmark, shouldn’t we urge the Board to find further & signficant efficiencies there?

It’s very easy to just say “close it” but what if you lived in that area and grew up going to the science center? Would you still be “cheerleading to flush it down the toilet?”

Ned

May 30th, 2012
10:13 am

Folks, they never intended to cut FSC, or middle school sports. It was all a ruse so the BOE and Dr. A could say they tried to cut but got shut down, so they “had” to raise taxes and take a machete to teachers (and by extension, students) again.

In the meantime:
–despite recommendations to cut 336 central office personnel, only 73, lower paid, staff are cut
–despite the fact we will obviously lose, the lawsuits continue and we continue to pay lawyers–a lot
–despite having more security staff per capita than other counties, almost no cuts to that bloated budget
Oh, and are we anticipating 6.25% pay cuts for Dr. A, Ms. Tyson, and the BOE?

Aquagirl

May 30th, 2012
10:18 am

Would you still be “cheerleading to flush it down the toilet?”

Actually I’m not cheerleading for that at all, I was being sarcastic. But since I gave no context it’s my fault for creating that impression, sorry.

Ned

May 30th, 2012
10:21 am

Not that it will happen now that it’s saved again, but the sustainable future for FSC includes thing like:

–user fees. Nominal fees, higher for non-county residents, could provide some revenue.
–use of existing communication technology. One or two visits a year to a school is not enough. We have a DCSS television system that could easily do streaming video to bring FSC instructors into all classrooms on a regular basis.
–public-private partnerships. Many of the county charter schools seek private funding to make up for what they don’t get from DCSS (or the state). FSC is not ‘above’ doing this.

Of course, this should all have happened years ago, and didn’t. But if the Fernbank community cared about the whole county it still could.

bobby

May 30th, 2012
10:23 am

The main problem with the school districts in Atlanta is that they are too big. Dekalb should be broken into three districts. A northern, central, and southern district, so they are more accountable to constituents. Whatever it takes, even if it means amending the Georgia constitution, the legislature should act to begin to break up these large and unaccountable school systems. Gwinnett county is another example of a system far too large to be managed properly.

yuzeyurbrane

May 30th, 2012
10:30 am

Fernbank is a crown jewel of the school system and must be saved even if it means a tax increase. It is priority time folks and education is one of the most important functions of our state and local govts. Time for us to cut back on needless toys for the wealthy like Artie Blank’s proposed pleasure dome stadium and diversions of public funds into voucher type programs for private schools for the wealthy.

redweather

May 30th, 2012
10:31 am

Compared to the staggering legal fees being paid, that $4.7 to operate Fernbank looks like very small potatoes. However, I still find it difficult to believe that Fernbank needs 56 full-time employees. And remember we’re talking about the little science museum across the street from the elementary school, not the big deal over by North Druid Hill CC.

yes i am worried

May 30th, 2012
10:34 am

yuzeyurbrane

So to save FSC. the board decided to up the cost of health insurance for teaches after also cutting their salaries through furlough days. (Yes folks, furlough days are salary cuts.)

FSC is a jewel? I don’t think so. I think for a small handful of students each year, the instructors do a fabulous job. They don’t do such a great job on the in school field trips, if you ask teachers and students. The kids are sick of the planetarium and much of the other equipment at FSC is 1970s era.

But Aquagirl, FSC is certainly worth an increase in class size right? RIGHT?

skipper

May 30th, 2012
10:36 am

Bad economy + incompetent board members= cluster. The right to vote has never meant the ABILITY to do so…………………………..

itsbrokeletsfixit

May 30th, 2012
10:38 am

This may give DeKalb Schools a gasp of air, but it doesn’t help students or teachers. Class sizes are already too large and teaching anything meaningful is becoming increasingly difficult. Pressure in the pressure cooker is building. It’s time we started rethinking the model for education that we have been using for the last 200 years and bring the process of education in line with what we now know about the process of learning. The problem with formal education now is the way it’s structured. One very clear thing about teaching is that smaller class sizes, especially in the primary grades improves learning. Yet, every time there is a budget crunch, class sizes go up. The crazy standardized testing that has been forced on school systems does not, I REPEAT, DOES NOT, help education. It does nothing to help students learn or get interested in learning, it contorts the learning process into a “force feeding of facts”, it takes creativity and initiative away from the classroom instructor, and it drives a wedge between the major pillars of education which must work together: parents, teachers, administration, and the public. In fact, standardized testing is destroying public education. The only thing it accomplishes is to take education tax dollars and make the testing industry wealthy. Education is (or should be) about more than force feeding facts to schoolchildren which they are then required to answer a few questions about on a test. The volume of this material is now so great and the content so broad that a child has no chance to build a logical framework in his/her brain to be able to understand the information in it’s proper context. There is no hope of students undertstanding the information (or a significant amout of it) and being able to apply the knowledge. The best they can do is to memorize it and retain it for a short while to score well on a test. The real danger here is that the kids actually believe they have learned the material when they pass these tests, and parents think they are getting educated.
The system is broken. Fixing it will not be accomplished by sending our children to private or charter schools, by school choice, or even hiring better teachers. Education should not just be seating kids in a classroom, reading a book, and taking a test. We need to rethink the process and determine what a student graduating from HS really should know, WHAT HE/SHE SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO, and find ways to promote and encourage students to develop their own creativity and initiative.
We are always one generation away from loosing the civilization that we have. Our success in educating our children each generation will determine our future.
Budget wars on education are going on all over the country. Much of the money that we now invest in education is wasted because the model, the structure of education is wrong. We probably arrived at our current dire situation by using the wrong tools to measure success, and actually defining success in an incomplete skewed way. A successful graduate should be able to leave school and become a good citizen, understand the basics of the world he/she lives in, and have had some experience in accomplishing things without detailed step-by-step instructions. To do well at anything one should learn to experience failures and overcome them. Schools not only don’t teach that, they rigorously teach students that failure is the most horrible and unthinkable outcome to anything. In today’s classrooms a “hands-on” lesson (and everyone knows hands-on learning is the best kind) usually is a very rushed step by step experience that the teacher leads the students through. If students do not get the desired outcome, they are told what it should be and fill out their lab sheets/notebooks accordingly, not recording what they saw and experienced but what the teacher told them it should be. That is not education, its indoctrination!
The system is broken. It won’t be easy to fix, but we must fix it if we expect to secure our future!

Dunwoody Mom

May 30th, 2012
10:38 am

The 5 exhibit designers at FSC draw more in salaries ($358,000) than the entire Middle School Sports budget.

Bill & Ed's Excellent Adventure

May 30th, 2012
10:48 am

@Dunwoody Mom point well made…so let’s ask the school board to find efficiencies at FSC, not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Michelle

May 30th, 2012
10:51 am

As a parent coming back to the DCSS, it is more of the same old thing. There are ways to plug the budget gap and keep class sizes manageable. I do not believe the board when they say this tax increase will be rolled abck in 2015. They will NEVER give back taxpayer monies but will find more ways to explain why they need to keep our taxes high. Dr. A spent our money to get a review of the central office and she should be held responsible for doing what is necessary to bring the amount of employees in the central office in line with the mnumber of people they supposedly serve. I am tired of the county behaving as though property taxes are their personal piggy bank. I will make it a point to be at the meeting tonight and hopefully they will get their act together very soon.

Pardon My Blog

May 30th, 2012
10:58 am

@Bill & Ed – I agree that Fernbank should still be left open and available but we do need to reorganize and rethink the staffing and pay. Perhaps some of the staffing at Fernbank could also handle some duties that are handled at Central Office since we have alot of unnecessary and overpaid staffing there. Student involvement at Fernbank could help with the displays, etc. as they would be a learning tool. Also, I still do not understand why DCSS is paying for Montessori Schools! That should go, along with extraneous transportation costs. By that I mean we should not pay to run buses for anyone who lives within a mile and a half of their school and no transportation should be provided for any students who choose to go to a school that is not their “home” school, magnet or otherwise. Perhaps the answer to sports, especially at the middle school level, is that parents pay a fee to help subsidize that activity since most practices are held after the normal school day is finished.

I do not believe that increasing the tax rate once again and throwing more money at the problem is the answer. Get your house in order first and live within your means like the rest of us.

Concerned citizen

May 30th, 2012
10:58 am

I agree with Bobby the Dekalb district is to big to be managed properly and held accountable.
Another issue that needs to be discussed as part of cost cuts is the healthcare and pension benefits of teachers,Board, and admin staff. The growing cost of these benefits is the real issue and should be discussed openly with taxpayers. The current trajectory of these expenses is not sustainable and needs to be dealt with and not kicked down the road hoping things get better. The fundamental issue is should retirement and healthcare benefits of Dekalb county employees be substantially better than those who work in the private sector? Is it fair that we pay for these benefits at the sacrifice of our kids and taxpayers? It’s something that needs to be discussed openly and voted on by our taxpayers.

Atlanta Media Guy

May 30th, 2012
10:59 am

Folks here is a quote from Tom Bowen in this mornings AJC.

Tom Bowen introduced the proposal to increase taxes while cutting teachers and school days. He said, “the one mill increase SHOULD be rolled back by 2015.”

Then Tom write it into the proposal. Place a sunset on that one mill increase. I know you won’t but you will say you tried. Does anyone believe a Eugene Walker led (if he gets reelected) BOE will “ROLLBACK” the one mill increase in 2015? I’ve learned never to trust a Superintendent or a BOE that continue to balance budgets on the backs of teachers, students and taxpayers. The friends and family reaped huge benefits throughout the “recession” and now we’re paying dearly for poor leadership. The amazing thing about it? Most of the people that got us stuck in this ditch are still drawing checks from DCSS. Why?

When I see the people, who aided Clew through the most corrupt period in our school systems history start getting pink slips, then I might actually want to give them more money. However, just the mistakes under Tyson’s “interim” leadership cost us millions and could have cost us more until a Dunwoody State Senator Millar stepped in as the adult in the room and got the funds to DCSS.

The many mistakes made by the Clew/Tyson leadership, still in place after all that has happened, is the true tragedy. In the real world, people responsible for huge costly gaffes would have been fired long ago. At DCSS, the ones that make the biggest mistakes are usually celebrated and even given a raise. Why?

DCSS(D?) still an epic failure since 2004.

RCB

May 30th, 2012
11:02 am

OMG–these people are so incompetent. I almost think the system is too far gone because incompetents will never hire anyone that could do anything about it. We, the voters in Dekalb, have ourselves to blame also for electing and hiring these people. Seems to me the 2 mils would not begin to compensate for the declining property values, especially in South Dekalb. I think they are being overly optimistic about raising $30M from a tax increase. No way will they get that much. That may be the beauty (for them) of having to finalize the budget before we get our property appraisals.

itsbrokeletsfixit

May 30th, 2012
11:03 am

Wow! You are certainly fixated on destroying Fernbank Science Center. I wonder how many classroom science teachers would want to loose the 749 traveling exhibits from FSC that they ordered last year? Each month last year FSC sent out traveling exhibits to an average of 54 schools (throughout the county) that requested them. Exhibit designers make those exhibits as well as the exhibits and supplies used by FSC instructors and the exhibits displayed at the science center.
Education is not just about force feeding facts to children in a classroom and paying the absolute minimum dollar to do that. Its about getting children excited to learn, helping them to see and experience concepts, opening the world of knowledge to them. Why can’t you understand that FSC is dedicated to doing just that, in as many ways as possible?
And…….. what does the Middle School Sports budget have to do with that?

Dunwoody Mom

May 30th, 2012
11:09 am

So, you’re okay with Exhibit Designers making $84,000 (more than most teachers) while class sizes increase?

Dunwoody Mom

May 30th, 2012
11:10 am

Earlier budget proposals suggested eliminating funding for Middle School Sports. I was just pointing out that these “designers” at FSC make more than the $200,000 Middle School Sports budget.

Aquagirl

May 30th, 2012
11:14 am

But Aquagirl, FSC is certainly worth an increase in class size right? RIGHT?

It’s not an either-or situation. The bloated Central office is worth an increase in class size right? RIGHT? A $37 million lawsuit is worth an increase in class size right? RIGHT?

There’s some bloat and inefficiency in FSC, it could probably be re-tooled and cost much less. But without addressing the real causes of the budget shortfall…obsession with testing, massive bureaucracy, and outright thievery, cutting one program won’t do anything. Raise taxes and the taxpayers might actually eradicate some of the infestation.

catlady

May 30th, 2012
11:17 am

The answer to every question is not, “Raise taxes.” What is Dekalb’s school millage rate now?

I am guessing the designers and others at FSC work year-round.

Start at the top. That is where real savings can start. Cut the CO 50% immediately! Then prune the rest through reducing pay and adding duties.

itsbrokeletsfixit

May 30th, 2012
11:17 am

My previous comment referred to Dunwoody Mom’s comment about FSC Exhibit Designers and comparing them to the Middle School Sports budger

Bobby

May 30th, 2012
11:18 am

There is no reason for Fernbank to be left open. I’m willing to pay for kids to learn science at school. Fernbank is a luxury we can live without in difficult times.

Atlanta Media Guy

May 30th, 2012
11:19 am

hey its broke! Just think of the labs that could be modernized and actually used in EVERY school, if that 4.7 million was used for science supplies across the county. The exhibits are a luxury however labs, where kids actually get hands on experience, is what we NEED.

The old schools have labs that are NEVER used. Bad plumbing, bad air circulation, supplies and equipment that were purchased decades ago, what good are these tools if teachers can’t use them? Do we say hey status quo is great but what can we do to raise our students science scores, which are abysmal when compared to systems that don’t have a Fernbank.

Close FSC or do what you should have done years ago and remake the model of FSC. How many blue ribbon panels were seated and their reports just ignore by Clew? I think all of them!

By the way, regarding healthcare costs, I thought Obamacare was going to make insurance affordable for all? How’s that working out? No tax increase until every Clew hire and former cabinet member are GONE! Their damage is costing us millions and they want us to pay them more? 1 Billion for three years wasn’t enough?

Riddle me this, between the 4 SPLOSTS and the tax increase how much money have the PEOPLE of DeKalb paid onto the system that remains an Epic Failure since 2004?

Bobby

May 30th, 2012
11:21 am

@AtlantaMediaGuy: Obama health care plan has not gone into effect yet. We will have to wait and see on that one.

Richard

May 30th, 2012
11:23 am

The solution to this is so simple. Keep the taxes based on the purchase price of a person’s home. Don’t base it on newly appraised values.

Medlock Madness

May 30th, 2012
11:23 am

Just got an email informimg us that the IB program is trying to be cut from $130000 to just $29000. That is not enough to run the program properly. The DCSB spent countless dollars creating IB High school programs and their middle school feeder programs for those talented kids only now to make them pointless. So much for all the “inclusion” programs they claim. Those parents and kids who want a challenging education are just as deserving as any other “inclusion” student.

Howard Finkelstein

May 30th, 2012
11:24 am

But of COURSE. Fernbank was put on the chopping block to garner an outcry from the public. Then allowing the “politicians” say, which in fact they now have, TAX INCREASE.

This is not coincidence my friends…this was a planned “back-door” attack. DONT FALL FOR IT!!

Atlanta Media Guy

May 30th, 2012
11:24 am

Pardon me, I meant to type, Over a Billions dollars per year spent for the last 4 years and our reserves are gone. How is this fiduciary responsibility of our elected leaders working out for us? How can we trust them with more of OUR money. That’s right Eugene Walker, it’s OUR money and OUR school system.

Teacher Reader

May 30th, 2012
11:38 am

Atlanta Media Guy, I hope that you’ll be at tonight’s meeting voicing this opinion. We can no longer sit on our laurels and need to have our voices heard, so that we can try to get ALL kids in DeKalb a quality education.

I can think of much better uses of the money for the designers and cabinet maker, librarian scheduler book keeper, and security guards, secretaries, Head administrators with 2 assistants, and so on. Wonder what kind of labs teachers in the regular high school, could provide for their students, if they had the necessary supplies.

Atlanta Media Guy

May 30th, 2012
11:38 am

Bobby, I know pieces and parts have not been implemented for political reasons. However, do you think the BOE will roll back costs to healthcare once it is implemented? Will DCSS roll all the employees onto the government healthcare rolls once it is implemented? Just wondering….

Aquagirl

May 30th, 2012
11:42 am

Wonder what kind of labs teachers in the regular high school, could provide for their students, if they had the necessary supplies.

I wonder what would happen to those supplies in schools crammed full of undisciplined students.

Atlanta Media Guy

May 30th, 2012
11:43 am

The meeting tonight, will people be able to speak or will it be the DCSS way where Mr. Moseley picks and chooses who gets to speak? Is this meeting going to be telecast on PDS-24? If not, why not? The most important meeting of the year and they are having it the week of Memorial Day, really? Talk about the lack of transparency, this is the norm for DCSS, make the most important decisions, when no one is watching and then when August comes around our feckless BOE members say, “Where were you when these decisions were made?”

Mr Smoketoomuch

May 30th, 2012
11:44 am

From what I saw this morning, a tax hike would mean $80 a year for a $200,000 home. That’s one tank of gas in the giant SUV’s that these complainers drive.

One tank……Slow down and that $80 won’t seem like so much.

I despise the human race.