DeKalb Schools: Chief financial officer resigns

Michael Bell
Michael Bell

Michael Bell, the DeKalb County School District’s chief financial officer since 2013, has resigned, officials confirmed Friday.

A district spokesperson said Bell announced his resignation on Nov. 19, effective on Dec. 27. An interim leader will be named soon.

Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson “thanked Dr. Bell for his many years of service, and for his leadership in helping to rebuild the district’s fund balance.”

A transition plan to be announced during the DeKalb County Board of Education’s December meeting will touch on, among other things, audits and accountability, financial leadership and management and the 2020-2021 budget.

Bell arrived at the district in 2013 amid concerns about money discovered during the budget process that wiped out a potential budget shortfall. Then-Superintendent Michael Thurmond said some of the discovered funds already existed and were not being properly recorded, while more was money the district had failed to collect.

Bell has led the district’s financial arm through a recovery period where its reserves have topped $120 million in recent years, ending furlough days and re-establishing salary steps and signing bonuses for some hard-to-fill positions.

Approved budgets in recent years have been set at just above what the district looked to receive in revenues and tax collections, using reserve funds to make up for any shortfalls. The district also is behind on submitting information for annual state audits, with its 2018 data nearly a year late and its 2019 data due at the end of December.

A judge could soon find the district liable for paying employees millions after it abruptly halted contributions to a retirement fund in 2009 with less than the required amount of notice.

For most of 2019, parents and local advocacy groups have been calling for a forensic audit, saying the audit would provide better transparency in how the district spends money.

Bell's departure is the eighth cabinet-level change of the nine positions, not counting regional superintendents, since January 2018.