I hate layoffs but am not sure DeKalb County Schools is serving its employees by pretending it can avoid them in this dire budget crisis.
As one parent said after the school boarded 5-2 last night to instruct Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson to find $20 million in cuts elsewhere, “What are they waiting on, the ‘budget fairy?”
The problem is that it is near impossible for the county to cut $20 million without layoffs at this point.
“If they don’t do it now, at some point during the school year, the numbers aren’t going to match up,” Herb Garrett, executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, told the AJC. “It’s going to be pay me now or pay me later.”
The layoff proposal would have affected 120 paraprofessionals, or teachers’ aides, an unpopular option among some parents especially with a school board election around the corner on July 31.
But DeKalb schools may be out of options. It’s unlikely enough teachers will choose to retire or quit to get to the number needed to balance the budget. The district has already agreed to $60 million in cuts to support staff and programming, and may not be in a position to absorb more cuts.
“She’s got to come up with a different plan, one that does not include reduction in force,” board chairman Eugene Walker said before the 5-2 vote against layoffs. Only Tom Bowen and Jay Cunningham voted for the layoffs, with Pam Speaks and Paul Womack absent.
Throughout the budget process, administration officials had been telling board members that they hoped to avert teacher layoffs. Typically, far more retire or leave voluntarily each year than the number of positions cut from the budget.
Walker and other board members said they didn’t think they’d have to lay anyone off when they voted for the budget. But board member Jay Cunningham said he understood that layoffs were a strong possibility. It’s “common sense,” he said. “If you vote for this, this will happen.”
In recent weeks, teachers have been leaving at a rate of about 20 per week, too slow to meet the requirements of the budget cuts. Laying off teachers once school starts will be more difficult emotionally because children and parents will have developed relationships with teachers, Garrett said.
Some teachers who attended Monday’s meeting praised the board’s decision. So did Lisa Lake, whose child attends a Montessori program affected by the teacher cuts. “They’re saying we need to stop and re-evaluate now,” she said.
Avoiding layoffs, however, is just wishful thinking, said David Schutten, president of teachers advocacy group the Organization of DeKalb Educators. He said the board gave false hope and that he expects layoffs eventually, or else the school system will spend money it doesn’t have and wind up in debt next summer, unable to make payroll.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog