DeKalb County school board approves new budget that promises a surplus

The DeKalb County school board on Wednesday unanimously approved a budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

The amount of the budget was not immediately available because the vote was predicated on a last-minute change that will require some calculations. Officials hope to release the final figures to the public Thursday.

Two weeks ago, the school board approved a tentative operating budget of $759 million, and the requested change will likely reduce that figure by several million dollars.

The change resulted from a desire by board members to restore money to schools that earned millions providing after-school programs. Superintendent Michael Thurmond had proposed drawing that money into the general budget, but the board rejected that idea.

The unanimous vote came after a disagreement over legal expenses. Some board members wanted to cut legal fees by more than the $6 million Thurmond had proposed in the tentative budget. A motion to force a further reduction failed.

District officials are projecting a surplus of at least $9 million, and say a strengthening economy could nearly double that figure.

This new budget is a sharp departure from the one approved last year, when the district cut $78 million, increasing class sizes and imposing two additional furlough days (unpaid leave) on teachers while cutting library workers, interpreters, teachers aides and bus mechanics.

The new budget eliminates one of the furlough days at a cost of $3 million while spending an additional $500,000 to hire back interpreters and $250,000 to restore bus mechanic positions. This budget also puts $1 million into an incentive program to encourage attendance by bus drivers and other support workers, with a bonus of $150 per employee for perfect attendance.

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