DeKalb school board approves $1.15 billion budget

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A screenshot from the July 13 DeKalb County Board of Education meeting shows members of the board and Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris, second from right, discussing district business.

By Marlon A. Walker

The DeKalb County Board of Education voted 6-1 on Friday to approve a $1.15 billion budget, which includes supplies to fight off the coronavirus as well as five furlough days for employees.

The number of furlough days for teachers likely will be reduced to one day because of planned professional development. Teachers will be paid for attending.

The vote was delayed from Monday as board members expressed reservations about a plan presented for teachers and other staff members to face nine furlough days. On Thursday, about 100 parents, teacher and residents protested the furlough days outside the district’s Stone Mountain headquarters.

“We heard the board, we heard our teachers, and we have come back with a proposal that meets the goals, meets the priorities as well as sets us up for as healthy a financial security as possible,” Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris said Friday during the reconvened school board meeting.

Central office staff — employees who do not work in schools — still face five furlough days.

The current fiscal year began July 1, but the budget process was delayed by the coronavirus. The pandemic also forced the state — which partially funds the school district — to finish its own budget later than normal in June.

The district’s budget is impacted by several large obligations, including its first of five payments into a $117 million settlement related to a retirement contribution discontinued more than 10 years ago without proper notice.

Board members largely praised district officials for hearing their concerns and taking the week to balance the budget without so many furlough days.

“This could have played out in a different way,” said board vice chairwoman Vickie B. Turner, adding that the goal was to avoid layoffs. “It is hard. We’ve learned some valuable lessons. I’m proud of the work of this board, I’m proud of the work of this staff and I’m proud to be part of the solution.”

Board member Joyce Morley said she would not be satisfied until the district could balance its budget without employee furloughs.

“The last time we did this, we had a $14.9 million deficit,” she said.

On Monday, the school board approve its tax levy, which would allow the district to collect more in tax revenues for the current year.

Public input was affected throughout the budgeting process, as several people signed up to attend, but just a few commented during the five public meetings held over two days on the budget and tax increase. Parents posted on social media that the district’s instructions were confusing. Turner pointed out Monday that she had received an email giving the wrong time for the budget hearing.

”That may be some confusion as to why some people are not here,” Turner said.

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