DeKalb County Board of Education approves $1.2B budget

The DeKalb County Board of Education approved a $1.2 billion operating budget for the 2020 fiscal year during a called meeting Tuesday night, up more than $90 million from the previous year.

Board members, though, appeared reluctant to do so.

Board Chairman Michael Erwin had to ask several times for someone to make a motion to approve the budget, set at about $1.195 billion, which would prompt discussion and a subsequent vote. Earlier this month, Erwin had to ask several times for a vote to approve the district's tentative budget.

The 2020 fiscal year begins Monday and runs through June 30, 2020.

District officials said much of the increase was due to teacher raises that were part of district efforts to make salaries more competitive with other districts, and rising construction costs. An additional $6 million will be spent to cover benefits related to a $3,000 teacher salary increase promised to the state’s teachers by Gov. Brian Kemp.

The district’s tax rate decreased slightly, but tax bills could still rise for owners of properties where values increased over the previous year.

Officials have said during budget discussions the actual budget is more than the amount of revenue expected through taxes and the state’s contribution, forcing the district to use its reserves. They said the district would save money through plans to freeze several open positions outside the schoolhouse. Several positions in Superintendent Steve Green’s cabinet are currently being filled by interim leaders after several high-profile departures, including chief operations officer, chief human capital management officer, chief legal officer and chief information officer.

"I'm not even sure that math works out," said Stan Jester, the lone board member who voted against the budget. "We've added like 50 positions, and now we're saying we're not going to hire for them. How much money are we really going to save? Historically, they tell us, a hiring freeze (like this) would save us about $16 million.

“I’m concerned that the board and administration are financially running the school district into the ground.”

The 2019-2020 approved budget is about $98 million more than the previous year’s approved budget of $1.097 billion, and about $320 million more than the $874 million budget approved just before Green took over as superintendent in 2015, a trend seen nationally as financial conditions continue to improve from The Great Recession.

Several organizations, including the DeKalb chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Georgia Federation of Teachers, have asked the district to make sure the budget is equitable and seeks to meet the needs of students in struggling schools. Many of those schools are vulnerable for state takeover, and find themselves on the state's Turnaround Eligible Schools List. As of October, 14 DeKalb schools were on the state's Turnaround Eligible Schools List, down from 16 the previous year.