The final $760 million budget — which carried a 5 to 4 vote — came with a tax increase, increased class sizes and sizeable cutbacks.
“These are tough decisions, I understand that … but if we don’t make them this situation will continue to get worse financially,” DeKalb Schools Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson said during the week’s proceedings.
Prior to the final vote, the board was notified by its legal team that its previously announced plan to roll back the 1 mill increase, if passed, throughout the course of the next two years is not an option.
“Legally we cannot bind a future board to roll it back,” board Chair Eugene Walker said.
District 4 bard member H. Paul Womack was among those to oppose the tax hike.
“Fifty-eight percent of the homes in DeKalb County are under water — the last thing they need is a millage increase,” Womack said.
Among the other substantial changes to be implemented include the addition of two furlough days, the loss of 200 paraprofessionals and $1.9 million in cuts to the Fernbank Science Center budget. The latter figure could have been worse as Atkinson initially suggested $3 million in cuts to Fernbank.
The final budget’s approval proved to be a protracted and at times painstaking process. Near capacity crowds looked on — at times in dismay — as some board members engaged in testy exchanges about tax and line item issues.
Board members opted to maintain bus services for magnet and theme schools, thus avoiding the potential closing of Arabia Mountain High School and Champion Middle School, whose student populations disproportionately commute by bus.
The transportation issue was of particular concern for Ursula Wingo, whose son, Ahmir, is a rising seventh grader at Champion Middle. He attends the Stone Mountain school because the school closest to his home failed to meet Annual Yearly Progress standards.
“We want our kids to compete at a certain level, but you have to give these children resources to do that,” said Wingo.
Womack, lamenting the system’s current state of affairs, called for a criminal investigation targeting the board’s finance and human resources departments on their handling of funds within the past couple of years.
“I’m sorry, but something stinks here,” Womack said.
Walker scoffed at the suggestions of impropriety.
“The finance department and HR department carried out the edict of the board … the cuts they made were carried out,” Walker said.