The DeKalb County Board of Education tabled a final vote on its proposed budget June 11 after school officials revealed it needs to make an additional $12 million in cuts due to dropping property tax values.
Hundreds of students, community members and school officials crowded into the board room of the DeKalb County Schools District’s (DCSD) Administrative and Industrial Complex in Stone Mountain, some standing in the doorway and hall.
“Last week I spoke to the county with regard to the tax digest and unfortunately the numbers are changing, and they’re not changing for the better,” said Michael Perrone, DCSD chief financial officer.
Originally, officials predicted a 6 percent drop in the county’s property tax digest but recently that number has grown to 9 percent, leaving the total deficit at $85 million.
The district’s budget totals more than $1 billion and is split into several funds, the largest being its general operations fund, which is approximately $760 million.
Over the past two months, school officials and board members developed a proposed budget with $73 million in cuts. Now board chairman Eugene Walker and other members said it would have to go back to the drawing board.
“Based on the information we just received I don’t see how we can move forward tonight,” board member Jesse Cunningham said.
Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson advised board members that the longer it waits to approve a budget, the less it will save in reserves. The proposed budget also includes staff reductions, which could be affected by delayed board vote.
“I would like to say that many of these action steps require advance notice, so we would ask the board to consider the options that they’ve chosen thus far so that staff can get working on it,” Atkinson said.
Board member Don McChesney echoed Cunningham and said he too wanted to table the vote because the board didn’t have enough facts to make an informed decision.
“We’re spinning out of control here,” McChesney said. “These are serious items and there are some things that you can’t take as one piece set apart from all the others.”
Board members voted unanimously to table adopting the budget for a week and have a special called meeting June 20 at 1 p.m.
The current proposed budget also includes reductions in employee insurance subsidies, calls for an additional two furlough days and a one student increase in class size as well as a tax increase of one mill.
Perrone said the district is required to submit its millage rate July 10. The district’s fiscal year begins July 1 but Perrone said the board could adopt spending resolutions to allow the district to continue normal operations while it balanced the budget. However, he didn’t recommend it.
A lawyer for the school district said the “drop dead date” to submit a budget to the state is Sept. 30.
The proposed budget would also cut $3.2 million in funding from the Fernbank Science Center, which operates on a budget of approximately $4.7 million. Originally, closing the center was proposed then taken off the table after residents voiced their concerns at a number of public budget hearings. The item was added to the proposed cuts last minute before the June 11 business meeting.
School district spokesman Walter Woods said the science center would remain open and continue to offer hands-on learning about science and nature, but many of its programs and 56 staff members would be reduced.
“The tax digest is one of the big items that hurt us this year and additional cuts from the state, so that’s why we’re in the situation that we’re in,” Woods said. “We have been in daily contact with the county and trying to get a firm number.”