Michael Perrone, DeKalb County School District chief financial officer, told a crowd of about 50 people last week the district’s shortfall comes from increases in the state’s teacher retirement system at $3.8 million, certified and non-certified health benefits at $7.4 million, state-mandated salary increases at $1.3 million and a new charter school in the district at $2.2 million.
District officials have sought the public’s input for suggestions in balancing the budget. The school board allowed an hour for public comment, budgeting two minutes per speaker, and did not respond to any comments. According to Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond, the board needs adequate time to consider the public’s requests. The majority of speakers were employees of the school district who offered first-hand examples of their concerns. Multiple speakers mentioned a top-heavy staff, a needed reduction in class sizes and desired employee raises.
“It’s tempting to think we can add two more children to the class and raise the class size again,” said teacher Lisa Morgan. “But we have reached a point that it is detrimental to our students and their learning. I know that because my students didn’t learn as much this year and they did in past years.”
David Schutten, president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators, echoed Morgan and added the school district should reduce the number of furloughs.
“I never thought I’d see the day when teachers would leave DeKalb and go to Decatur,” he said.
Schutten also told the board that morale is at an all-time low, especially among elementary school teachers, partly because of the “Success For All” model that requires intense professional development to ensure elementary students are all able to read at their appropriate grade levels. It is geared toward struggling students, according to the “Success For All” website.
District employees Joel Edwards, Gregory Davis and Deborah McMillan brought attention to the transportation department, all noting a shortage of bus drivers and low pay within the department.
“I’m a bus mechanic,” Davis said. “I made it through last year’s reduction, but we’ve been worked like mules and then put away wet.”
McMillan added that a shortage of drivers means carrying more students, which causes more discipline problems and stress on the bus. She also said the drivers should be paid like professionals.
Multiple speakers mentioned a needed reduction in central office staff, but Edwards went as far as to say there was an “obesity problem” in management. Management should be reduced by one-third, he said, later stating that as much as 50 percent of the top staff could be cut. The board will meet again tonight at the central office boardroom at 6 p.m. to conduct the second of three public input budget hearings.
The school board will meet tonight at 6 p.m. at the central office, 1701 Mountain Industrial Blvd., Stone Mountain, for the second of three public input sessions regarding the budget.