The DeKalb County School District has found a way to avoid a projected budget shortfall of nearly $40 million for SPLOST III and IV construction projects, school officials announced at an April 9 Board of Education meeting.
Additionally, officials said the district will be able to fully fund the Chamblee High School replacement project, which was found to be $10 million over budget earlier this year.
“March 12 the board approved moving SPLOST III projects into SPLOST IV as allowed by law in order to enable [the district]to complete all of our projects as promised. I can report that the legal counsel has advised us that we may move forward with [this],” Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson said.
Atkinson and officials originally proposed a plan halting 35 construction projects from SPLOST III. Officials said by moving some of those 35 projects onto the SPLOST IV project list and paying for others with cash on hand, the district will be able to complete all SPLOST III and IV projects.
“We’re going to pay as we go. That will allow us to reallocate the $11 million we had previously scheduled for debt service; we’ll move that money because we won’t be [taking out] a bond for SPLOST IV,” Chief Operations Officer Stephen Wilkins said.
That will be the largest savings measure the district will take to fund the projects. Others include transferring approximately $20 million from SPLOST III to SPLOST IV, saving $5 million by using a standard design for building seven new elementary schools and reallocating $5 million from the district’s program management expenses.
Several school board members were concerned that moving the SPLOST III projects into the SPLOST IV program would affect the timeline of some of the projects.
“I do understand the fact there will be projects going on simultaneously but I don’t want those SPLOST III people to feel like they’re being shut out. I hope we look at that,” board member Don McChesney said.
Atkinson assured members “the priority is to do those as quickly as possible because they were promised first.”
Board Chairman Eugene Walker commended Atkinson and her team for finding a timely solution to the projected shortfall, but urged board members and staff to take another look at how the district will pay for the projects.
“One of the issues that we had is we borrowed $300 million to jumpstart SPLOST III and we had to pay some interest on that—we were collecting the interest off the money we had. Things were going good until the bottom fell out,” Walker said.
Walker said he thinks borrowing the money to jumpstart projects is a good idea if timed correctly, and there are plenty of opportunities for federal bonds the district should consider.