• DeKalb budget-cut debate still brewing

    By: Richard Elliot


    DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - DeKalb County School Board member Paul Womack did not accuse past school administrations of failing to implement budget cuts, but he came awfully close to it, reported Channel 2's Richard Elliot.

    At a Dekalb County Finance Committee meeting Monday morning, Womack openly wondered if past school administrations actually carried out nearly $120 million in board-ordered cuts over the past two years. He thinks that may have contributed to the school district's $73 million budget shortfall.

    "I don't know what happened, but we're going to find out," said Womack. "You take the math, and it's very simple. We had $853 million dollar budget two years ago and you subtract $120 million, and we would be in good shape."

    Womack added nothing but praise for new superintendent Dr. Cheryl Atkinson's handling of the recent financial crisis that's forcing board members to slash the 2013-2014 budget.

    Proposed budget cuts also include more teacher furlough days, slashing Fernbank Science Center's budget by $3.2 million down to $1.5 million, and cutting bus transportation to magnet schools for students who live outside the school's immediate area.

    Also on the table is a property tax hike that Womack said he would not agree to. He's worried state lawmakers could come in next year and reduce DeKalb's millage cap from 25 down to 20 mills. If so, he said, they would have to make even more drastic cuts next year.

    "I'm more afraid about next year than I am right now with this one mill increase," Womack said. "I will not support a mill increase."

    Womack also said he believes the county's budget woes will not affect student learning. In fact, he felt the district had done a good job not just holding academic standards steady but had plans to increase them.

    "While we have been dealing with the crisis, the teaching and learning team has been looking into the schools and seeing what is missing, what is needed and what others have," said Womack.

    The district also showed numbers it said detailed how past administrations have under-budgeted millions of dollars for things like electricity and water. That, it said, helped deplete the school district's financial reserves.

    The board is scheduled to vote on the proposed budget Monday night.

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