DeKalb schools cut lower paid workers

When the DeKalb County school board voted last month to eliminate 289 jobs to help meet an estimated $88-million shortfall in next year’s budget, at least 150 of those jobs were supposed to be in the district’s central office, which parents thought included mostly administrators and other high-paid staff.

But records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show that more than half of the employees laid off by DeKalb schools make less than $40,000 a year. They include nine custodians, 11 school resource officers, 12 secretaries and 19 maintenance workers.

An Open Records Act request of the 289 jobs included in the layoffs lists only 253 names. And only 12 percent of those employees make more than $100,000.

“The people who are being let go make no money,” said Bruce McMillian, father of a Southwest DeKalb High School student. “The ones in the classroom who touch kids are going. For every central office job they are keeping, they could have saved three paraprofessionals at least.”

School officials said they exceeded the budgetary goal of $16 million. They insist that the layoffs were done fairly by trimming 15 percent from every department in the central office.

“We still have to keep certain people in certain positions in order to keep the system running,” said Zepora Roberts, the board’s vice chairwoman.

However Roberts, along with several other board members, told the AJC on Wednesday that they were surprised to learn that so many of the layoffs include lower-paid workers.

“I do expect the superintendent to terminate some of the higher-paid people,” board member Eugene Walker said. “I don’t know how many or who that will be, but certainly my expectation is that all these layoffs won't just be the lower-paid people.”

In addition to the central office workers, the district cut 100 paraprofessionals, who make less than $40,000, along with 27 library clerks and seven technical specialists.

For paraprofessional Heather Hammen, this was her second layoff from DeKalb schoolsn.

Last school year, her position as a part-time media clerk was eliminated. In October, her principal rehired her after a paraprofessional slot came open to work one-on-one with a special needs student, Hammen said.

Three weeks ago, Hammen, who has two children in DeKalb schools, learned she was being cut again.

“I felt like I was good at what I did. But they used the ‘last hired, first fired' scenario,” she told the AJC.

Hammen, who made less than $30,000, said she is now applying for private school jobs.

“Every other district is exactly in the same position: they’re not hiring, they’re getting rid of,” she said.

School division heads identified the positions that would be cut based on seniority and the nature of the position given the budget, and not on performance, according to schools spokesman Dale Davis.

“We hope the board understands the harsh economic times for staff,” said Robert Moseley, deputy chief superintendent of operations. “Last year, it was to do more with less. This year, it’s to do something with nothing.”

An AJC investigation published last month found DeKalb schools, which have about 14,000 employees, have more workers making $100,000-plus per year than any other district in the metro area.

In February, former superintendent Crawford Lewis said he would narrow his cabinet from 27 administrators to about 12. Lewis, who was terminated in April and indicted last week in a school construction scandal, may not be well liked by parents now, but his proposal to cut administrators won favor.

However, Lewis’ promise was not upheld. Only one person was laid off from the superintendent’s cabinet – Davis, who makes almost $139,000 as the media director.

In addition, the district’s former chief operating officer, Patricia Reid, who was also indicted last week, is not having her contract renewed. She made more than $197,000 annually. School officials plan to fill the chief operating officer position, Davis said.

Two others – associate superintendent of instructional transition Wendolyn Norris-Bouie and area assistant superintendent Elizabeth Heckman – are retiring. Their positions, which each carry $163,000 salary, will be eliminated, Roberts said.

“We can’t get rid of the cabinet,” she said. “Those are critical positions.”

Also cut were 17 coordinators and four directors, who are not part of the superintendent’s cabinet but are supervisors in the central office.

Despite the cuts, officials insisted schools will see “minimal” impact from the reductions. All middle and high schools will still have a school resource officer assigned, Davis said. The paraprofessional cuts will be minimized by reassigning staff based on need, officials said.

“With a smaller employee base, there will be a reduction in service. However, all local, federal and state mandates will still be met,” Davis said.

Reduced services will mean a longer wait for maintenance and technical work. It used to take 24 hours to replace a computer hard drive; it will now take 36 hours, Davis said.

Some services, including communications and telecommunications, will be outsourced. The district is now advertising to hire a public relations firm, with the contract to be capped at $25,000. The school system also paid Dickerson Communications $16,875 to do “crisis communications from May 5 through June 30.

Two communications workers will also be hired, but no other positions will be refilled, Davis said.

DeKalb County school employee cuts:

Coordinators: 17

Directors: 7

Paraprofessionals: 100

Library clerks: 30

Technical specialists: 9

Communications: 6

Custodians: 9

School resource officers: 11

Maintenance workers: 19*

* Includes electricians, painters, carpet cleaners, maintenance workers, roofers.

Source: DeKalb County School System

DeKalb County school employee cuts by salary:

Under $20,000: 2 employees

$20,000-$30,000: 113

$30,000-$40,000: 28

$40,000-$50,000: 11

$50,000-$60,000: 22

$60,000-$70,000: 16

$70,000-$80,000: 16

$80,000-$90,000: 10

$90,000-$100,000: 4

$100,000-$110,000: 8

$110,000-$120,000: 5

More than $120,000*: 18

* Does not include Patricia Reid's contract non-renewal

Source: DeKalb County School System

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