DeKalb County residents will see taxes and class size rise in a difficult school board budget vote tonight that will likely irk a lot of folks in the county.
There was no way the board could not aggravate someone with an $84 million deficit to overcome and very hard choices to make.
DeKalb’s protracted and painful budget process highlights the inability of this school board to coalesce, even when faced with a grave crisis. Rather than coming together to resolve what may be the state’s worst school situation, board members sniped at one another, putting on what amounted to a sideshow. (New school chief Cheryl Atkinson might be pining for Ohio about now.)
I am not sure if school board members just don’t like one another or if they believe the public bickering wins them point with their camps.
The board voted to raise taxes. It also increased class sizes, even for special education students, while adding two furlough days for teachers and cutting the number of their aides.
The Fernbank Science Center suffered, too, but not as badly as previously proposed. The board cut $1.9 million — about 40 percent — from the center’s $4.7 million budget; Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson had recommended a $3.2 million cut.
Overall, the district’s budget was reduced by $77.5 million.
“A cut is a cut just like if you cut your hand, so it’s going to hurt,” said board member Pam Speaks, who was in the minority opposing both the tax increase and the budget cuts. Voting with her were Paul Womack, Nancy Jester and Don McChesney.
Voting for the cuts and the tax increase were: Eugene Walker, Jesse “Jay” Cunningham, Sarah Copelin-Wood, Tom Bowen and Donna Edler.
The tax increase was by 1 mill to raise another $14.8 million, pushing the limit to within a mill of the voter-approved cap of 25. The two furlough days come atop four furlough days implemented in prior years. All the furlough days would be teacher workdays and would not affect the attendance calendar.
The decision came only after board members spent more than an hour attacking one another, eliciting groans from the near-capacity audience. They argued about whether money was mishandled by officials in the administration that preceded Atkinson’s.
“They act more like middle school students trading insults than adults trying to pass a serious budget,” David Schutten complained afterward. He’s the president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators, a teachers advocacy group. Despite the deep cuts, including the two furlough days and the loss of 200 paraprofessionals, he said he was satisfied with the outcome. After all, the board had tossed around the idea of cutting 300 paraprofessionals and adding a third furlough day.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog