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Schools face budget woes

While The DeKalb County Board of Education cut more than $113,000 from its budget proposal in a workshop Thursday evening, the deficit for the 2013-14 proposal still demands that more than $1.4 million be drawn from reserves to balance the plan.
The $20.6 million proposed spending plan was approved by the school board in a special-called meeting Thursday night after the workshop, and must now be sent back to the county commission's budget committee for approval.
The school board made the cuts after the county budget committee made it clear in a recent work session that a request from the school board to appropriate an additional  $350,000 from the local-option sales tax fund would not be granted.
According  to budget committee members, the local option, or “sinking” fund,  already provides $1,540,000 annually for schools in addition to $605,620 that will be drawn from the fund this year to meet school debt-service obligations.
Members of the budget committee cited fears that any further expenditures from the sinking fund would deplete the fund too rapidly, and would prove “unsustainable” over time.
The budget proposal put forth by the school board Thursday night included the removal of the request for additional funds  from the sinking fund, which was included in the board’s previous proposal.
The board elected to trim the $113,000 from the plan, managing to cut several line items with no apparent cuts in current positions or programs.
School system Central Office Payroll/Bookkeeper Teresa Miller outlined the new cuts at Thursday’s meeting.
“Revenues have been reduced by the $350,000 that we had asked additional dollars from the sinking fund,” Miller noted. “That is the only revenue adjustment.
“Regular Instruction Programs has been reduced by $54,260,” she continued. “Special Education Program has been reduced by $3,200. Vocational Education Program has been reduced by $4,000. Attendance Category has been reduced by $13,195. Other Student Support has been reduced by $2,000. Regular Instructional Staff has been reduced by $8,500.
“Board of Education has been increased by $29,288. That's due to increases in insurance premiums. Office of the Principal has been reduced by $17,000. Fiscal Services has been reduced by $1,400.
“Operation of Plant has been reduced by $19,000. We reduced Maintenance of Plant by $9,700. Transportation was reduced by $11,000.
That brings our anticipated expenditures to $20,626,800,” Miller informed the assembly. “Our revenues are at $19,182,340, which would leave $1,444,460 to be balanced with reserves or fund balance,” she said.
Director of Schools Mark Willoughby told the board that the plan was a “bare bones” proposal, and further cuts could affect the county’s children.
“I think we've done a good job going through and cutting some things that we could,” Willoughby said.
“It gets down to operating a bare-bones budget again, like we have done year after year, and we're fortunate that we've been able to offer the services that we have and to cut a lot more, I'm afraid we would not be able to offer the services our children need.”
“Will the passage of this budget affect children directly?” board member Charles Robinson inquired.
“If we cut much more then we're cutting human capital,”  Willoughby answered.
“We're afraid that we would be cutting personnel. We don't want to cut personnel, because that we think we have in there what our students need. I really wouldn't feel comfortable cutting any more.”
The director also opined that budget limitations demand that programs available to children in other school systems  were not offered in DeKalb County.
“There are several things that would improve the education of our children that some school systems already have,” Willoughby said.
“We would like to have had math coaches, language art coaches, graduation coaches, and more guidance counselors.
“These are things that some systems already have. We would like to have audio enhancements in all of our rooms. These are things that are research-based that have been proven to help children achieve more.
“We know as children achieve more, the opportunities for children increase tremendously. Yes, there are other things, if we had the money we would have in this budget,” the director said.
Though school board members voted unanimously to approve the proposal, some members expressed frustration that they can not do more.
W.J. (Dub) Evins, III, school board member from the 5th District, voiced his unhappiness with the decision not to use more of the sinking fund to help balance the budget.
“I would like to make it clear to everyone that this budget once again requires no tax increase request as far as property taxes are concerned,” Evins said.
“It's unfortunate we have to balance this budget with our reserve. I still disagree with the fact that we can't take $350,000 to $400,000 out of the sales tax.
“The implication of cutting personnel, that's an insult to the integrity of the people who are responsible for taking care of 3,000 students. We don't have anyone, to my knowledge, sitting around with nothing to do. We could use more people.”
Evins said he felt that DeKalb is falling behind other systems at a time when children need every available advantage.
“We're sitting on a budget once again that's just something we're getting by with,” Evins said. “It's nothing fancy, no frills and no enhancements that other schools have. We're still falling behind other schools in the district and we will continue to until we make some changes.
“Any substantial cuts are not there to be made (in this proposed budget). It's unfortunate we have to balance the budget with the reserve. I do disagree with the funding mechanism, but if that's what it takes, that's what it takes. But again, there's no property-tax increase request. I don't know how the system has run as efficiently as it does.
“We haven't had a property-tax increase in quite a while and the cost of living goes up every year. Health-care costs go up every year and we're still sitting on the same budget. I understand that the budget committee turned our budget down.
“I would hope that the full commission would look at this budget and consider all the circumstances and the discussion we've had.
“Once again, we're sending a budget over there with no tax increase. We're not here to cut personnel, and I don't intend to.
“I would hope the full commission and our county mayor would look at this long and hard because we're not asking them for one dime. We're asking them for their consideration for this budget to be passed so we can move forward,” Evins concluded.
The budget proposal includes funds to offer single-coverage health insurance to all full-time classified employees beginning Jan. 1, 2014. School officials hope this will meet requirements of the new federal Affordable Health Care Act, though no one is sure what the ramifications of health care reform will eventually be.
The plan calls for certified employees to receive a one-time bonus of about $160 instead of a 1.5 percent pay raise.
The $40,000 for this move will come from state money that may not be available next year.
The school board proposal includes $90,000 to fund two new teachers at DeKalb Middle School, $45,000 to pay for one new P.E. teacher at Northside Elementary School, and $45,000 for one new teaching position at the elementary school level.
This position may or may not be needed, depending on enrollment.
Two federal teacher positions previously funded by federal money are budgeted at $90,000 from local money this year.
One new Gifted Education Program position is funded at $45,000.
A half-time psychologist is funded at  $27,000.
An assistant band director at DeKalb West School is funded at $5,000, two new Middle School soccer coaches at $2,785 each and one baseball coach at DeKalb West School at $2,785.
Two new assistant soccer coaches at DCHS were funded at $2,785 each, and a Cross Country Running coach was funded at $2,785
A $4,150 pay raise was included for the Transportation Supervisor.

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