DeKalb County School Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson told school board members at a recent meeting that the district only “looked like” it was $4.8 million over its budget for charter schools.
Atkinson explained that it appeared the district was over budget because it didn’t budget for the number of students allowed to be enrolled in each school, but budgeted for actual enrollment.
“Let’s say we should have budgeted $2.5 million for this school based on the number of students but we only budgeted $1.5 million. It looks like we’re over budget because we under-budgeted that particular school in the first place. We’ve got to align what the budget should reflect based on the enrollment caps,” Atkinson said.
For each charter agreement the board has with a charter school, an enrollment cap is set and the school is not supposed to exceed that number. However, DeKalb Schools spokesman Walter Woods said the district has done little to police that in past years.
“Our funding goes to them based on enrollment and we have not up until this point held them under the cap,” Woods said. Atkinson agreed the district has an issue with charter schools exceeding their enrollment caps and said it is trying to correct that. Additionally, Atkinson said some schools were actually under their enrollment caps.
“It doesn’t look like we have $4 million worth of students over the caps in the schools…There are some schools that are over their caps yes, but not to that degree,” Atkinson said.
“These folks have got to get their house in order and it does not appear to be in order. If we’ve got $4.8 million over budget on our charter schools then I’ve got to ask why?” board member Don McChesney said.
Board member Nancy Jester said, to avoid any similar situations in the future, school finance officials could present the board with a charter school budget broken down school-by-school.
“We could catch any anomalies more readily and as they happen,” Jester said. She also said the district needed to pay special attention to schools exceeding enrollment caps, and in some cases the district may need to do a “cost/benefit” analysis to make sure it was getting the most out of its money.
“I’m not saying what that cut off is but at some point, it is other people’s money and we are spending it on their behalf to accomplish the social good of education. Where do we draw the line?” Jester said.
McChesney said he asked officials if, at the end of the year, the $4.8 million would balance out and was told “No.”
“We are continually over-funding,” McChesney said. “It’s not about the number of students in the school. So, I’m trying to find out what does that $4.8 million include? We cannot just keep funding something—we already have shortages—we just need to know where that $4.8 million is,” McChesney said.Woods did not return several phone calls seeking comments by press deadline.