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