Some DeKalb school board members volunteer to cut their own pay

Some DeKalb County school board members will take a voluntary pay cut, saying they want to help with the district’s $115 million budget shortfall.

The board’s budget committee voted unanimously Monday for board members to take a voluntary 5 percent pay cut.

For board members who agree, that means they will lose about $900 of their annual $18,000 salary.  The members also receive a $4,000 annual travel allowance, which they are considering reducing.

“I want it to be in excess of what our teachers are taking in order to cast our lot with what everybody else is having to do,” board member Don McChesney said. He drafted the proposal, he said, to help meet the district’s anticipated $115 million shortfall.

Teachers are facing seven furlough days or a 3.9 percent pay cut in the fiscal year 2011 budget. Administrators, secretaries and other employees who work year-round are facing 15 furlough days or a 6.25 percent pay cut, said Marcus Turk, the district’s chief financial officer.

The board is scheduled to vote May 14 on the final budget, including the board member pay cut, furloughs and layoffs. The budget proposal now calls for cutting 150 central offices workers, 200 paraprofessionals, 59 media clerks and 18 technical specialists.

“We can’t ask them [employees] to give up money and we not do it. That would not be right,” board member Eugene Walker said. “We as the board ought to set the example of making a financial sacrifice.”

Board chairman Tom Bowen and members Jay Cunningham, H. Paul Womack and Jim Redovian also said they would support the pay cut.

However, not all members are willing to give up some of their money.

“I would not support the 5 percent pay cut. That is important to me as an elected official,” board vice chairwoman Zepora Roberts told  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We already do not get enough as a board member. If I do that, only the ones that are wealthy will be able to serve on the school board.”

Board member Sarah Copelin-Wood said she needs more time to think about it. Board member Pamela Speaks could not be reached for comment.

While most districts in metro Atlanta are slashing expenses, DeKalb is the first school system in the area that is considering reducing board member pay, the budget committee said.

Officials with Atlanta, Gwinnett and Cobb schools said they have no plans to decrease board pay. Cobb’s members make slightly more than DeKalb's at $19,000. Gwinnett pays its members $16,524 and Atlanta pays $14,800.

Officials with Fulton and Clayton schools did not respond to requests for information.

Staff reporter Eric Stirgus contributed to this report.