Eileen Houston-Stewart, Dekalb County Schools’ chief communications and community relations officer.

DeKalb school board takes first vote on $1 billon budget

The DeKalb County Board of Education had its first vote on a $1 billion budget planned for the 2017-2018 school year, though most of the public has yet to see specific details of how the money will be spent.

The board plans to approve the final budget for the 2018 fiscal year, which begins July 1, on June 27.

The budget includes increased spending for administrative positions and calls for a tax increase to help offset some projected costs.

Monday, the district held its second of two required public hearings on the budget. While a summary of expenditures is posted on the school district’s website, budget details have not been made available to the public.

During public comments, some preached about waste and the need for more certified teachers. Several people spoke out about the lack of transparency so far in the budgeting process.

Among other things, Tucker resident Kirk Lunde questioned whether the needs of the students were being met, saying 25,000 times during the school year a substitute was not available for a class when a teacher was missing. He also admonished the district after he said the budget suddenly appeared online over the weekend.

“How can you expect us to give you feedback on a budget we haven’t seen?” he asked.

The Georgia Federation of Teachers has asked the board to delay voting on the budget for several reasons, including questions about additional administrative positions and continuing concerns with the supplemental retirement plan.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was initially denied access to the document, with Chief Communications and Community Relations Officer Eileen Houston-Stewart saying the full document would be shared after the board approves it. She emailed a copy of the document Monday during the school board’s Committee of the Whole, just before 3 p.m.

According to the Georgia Open Records Act, public documents are to be made available “without delay.”

“The present method by which the public is notified and have input is woefully inadequate,” Verdaillia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, wrote to school board members Friday afternoon.

Interim Chief Human Capital Management Officer Everett Patrick reported early Monday afternoon that the district currently had 438 vacant teaching positions, which includes a loss from teachers who did not sign new contracts with the district. The number is up more than 20 percent from last year’s 372.5 vacancies at this same time.

The district also employs more than 100 teachers on certification waivers, which went into use during the 2016-2017 school year as part of the district’s switch to a Strategic Waiver School System, allowing some flexibility on state regulations in exchange for more strict standards.

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