At a crowded board meeting tonight, the DeKalb Board of Education — all members on hand — tabled discussing the school budget until June 20 after learning county property values were even worse than it was expecting.
The board learned that it would likely have to cut $12 million more from its already scaled-down proposed budget. DeKalb was already facing a $70 million deficit and was considering closing Fernbank Science Center and eliminating its local contribution to pre-k, which could mean fewer pre-k days.
DeKalb Schools CFO Michael Perrone delivered the bad news: He expected the county property tax digest to fall 6 percent, but now projects it will drop 9 percent in value. The county was badly hit by the collapse of the real estate market in Georgia.
So, Perrone is calling for $12 million more in additional cuts to reflect the downgraded property digest.
Board member Jesse Jay Cunningham, Jr., said that he didn’t feel the board could proceed now with the new information and wanted the budget questions pulled off the agenda, but school chief Cheryl Atkinson urged the board to consider moving on some proposed cuts. She didn’t find support from other board members.
“We are spinning out of control here without having all the facts at hand to make wise decisions,” said board member Don McChesney. “These are serious items and there are some things you can’t take as one piece set apart from all the others. I would hate to see us go off half-cocked tonight…We have to find 12 more million dollars.”
“It is getting worse, not better, let’s be honest about that,” said Nancy Jester, agreeing that the board needed to wait but urging more detailed information to the public about what programs are slated for elimination or reductions.
“It would not be prudent for us tonight to find $12 million,” said board member Thomas Bowen.
Board member Pam Speaks says the county can’t delay too much longer in making the hard decisions since parents have to plan, especially in pre-k where families will have to seek other options if DeKalb cuts its offerings. “We can’t keep putting it off and off. We have to think of parents,” she said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog
(Congrats to the all-female Envirothon team from Fernbank Science Center, which won the state competition held at UGA in April. To reach state, the team defeated 22 other teams at the regional level. At the state contest, the team placed first in three of five competition events and second in the remaining two. Their presentation earned a perfect score, the first in Georgia Envirothon history. The team made up of DeKalb high schoolers was based at and sponsored by Fernbank Science Center, and coached by Stacy Byrd, a Fernbank Science Center instructor. The team goes to Pennsylvania for the nationals in July.)