The DeKalb County School System’s budgetary outlook could see an additional $13 million to $18 million in property tax revenue, but district officials are holding their breath before celebrating.
The county’s tax digest, initially projected by county tax assessors to drop between 6 or 7 percent, has fallen by a little more than 3 percent, said Marcus Turk, the school district’s chief financial officer. That could mean as much as $18 million in unanticipated revenue for the school district, Turk recently told school board members.
“With all things being equal… we will collect more than we budgeted,” he said.
But before the board can use any of that money to help relieve the district of more than $104 million in cuts the board approved in May, the district said it’s waiting for budgetary news from the State House, he said.
The state cut education funding by about $18 million last year after the district passed its budget, and the district ended up receiving approximately $340 million from the state, Turk said. A similar cut found its way to DeKalb County the year before that as well. State agencies have been told to expect a 4 percent cut to their budgets, Turk said. Depending on how much unanticipated local property tax revenue the district receives, all of it may be needed to help plug the budgetary hole created by a forthcoming state cut, he said.
“If the last two years are a guide, that reduction is not far behind,” Turk said.
The board and interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson would have decided whether to use increased revenue to refill cut positions or reinstate cut programs, but Turk said it’s too soon to say whether any of that would be possible.
The board voted 5-4 to approve a $1.037 billion budget in May, sparing residents a tax increase, which several board members had advocated. The $104 million in cuts was less harsh than Tyson and the board had previously considered, and the board chose to save 138 jobs that had been on the chopping block through budgetary discussions. Even so, the board cut 150 central office workers, 100 paraprofessionals, nine technical specialists and 30 media clerks.
Teachers were spared cuts, but class sizes were increased and teachers will have to suffer seven furlough days. Administrators will take 15 furlough days. The board also cut the district’s tax-sheltered annuity by $26 million. The annuity is essentially a teacher retirement fund that serves as a replacement for Social Security.
One of the most controversial proposed cuts, however, was to magnet school transportation. Currently parents of students who attend magnet schools are able to bring their children to 18 satellite locations from which their children are bused to schools, sometimes over significant distances.
The board had planned to cut all magnet transportation but instead voted to cut nine of the 18 satellite locations.