Meeting Notes: Budget, Audit, Finance & Facilities Committee Meeting, Feb 15

Budget, Audit, Finance & Facilities Committee Meeting
Wednesday, February 15, 2012 11:00AM
Cabinet Room
Robert R. Freeman Administrative Center
Administrative & Instructional Complex

Present on panel: Edler, Cunningham, Womack, Atkinson, Jester (from L to R)
B. Discussion Items
1. Proposed Budget Meeting Calendar
2. Natural Gas Buses
David Gilmore presented an overview of options to the committee that would allow DCSS to start utilizing school buses that run on compressed natural gas (CNG). The CNG buses would have a longer life span (14 vs. 10 years) than conventional buses and would cost less in fuel than a transit bus (described as similar to a MARTA bus). Fuel cost for one bus annually (on average) is $7,212 vs. $5,392.56 for CNG bus.

Jester mentioned that McChesney had asked at a prior meeting about the possibility of converting existing buses to a CNG engine. Gilmore confirmed that it would be cheaper than purchasing a new bus, but there are currently no grants he is aware of that would help to offset the costs. It costs about $45 – $50K per bus to convert to CNG.
Cost savings estimated to be $2,479.85 per bus over the expected 14 year life span. Womack mentioned that the cost savings would not be realized until about 10 years.
Gilmore stated there are not any converted buses on the roads today that they could take a look at. Marietta City Bus has 3 CNG new buses running right now. They are looking at adding fueling stations, which DeKalb currently does not have. He stated that there was a fueling station in the works for the “78 Corridor” so the busses could be stationed at the DeKalb Administrative Complex and re-fuel before or after they run their routes.

Jester asked to confirm that the state money we get is only for new buses. Gilmore agreed. Jester asked if Gilmore would send inventory of all current buses to her. He agreed. Stated that we have total fleet of 900 buses, about 860 on the road as others are in various states of disrepair. About 50% of our buses are over the 10 year mark, meaning they are running past their life expectancy. There is a need to replace new buses for old buses on a regular basis, but due to shortcomings in the budget, this has not been done according to any sort of schedule. SPLOST III had three different allocations for buses, but SPLOST IV funds are not yet available.

State gives $75K roughly per bus. The cap for purchase is $76,219.50 / ea. Total we receive currently is $533,000.

Cost of a transit (like MARTA) diesel bus is $113K vs. $155K for a new CNG bus.

Womack mentions that even with the cost savings backed out, CNG appears to still be $20 – $25K cost prohibitive. He states that until we know more about any grants, if the federal government will subsidize, we are at a stand-still.

Current fleet includes Blue Bird, Thomas and RUSH/Nally/International. Gilmore has received information only from International regarding conversion products.

Atkinson: Can we get more information? Sounds like we need more study on the options.
Cunningham: How much did we get from SPLOST III? Gilmore: $12 million. Cunningham: Was that a supplement to the state allocation? Gilmore: Yes, it would be, but at the time there was no state supplement available. Cunningham: So, we could have used that SPLOST money toward CNG buses at the time, but we didn’t, right? Gilmore: Right. Cunningham: Can we use SPLOST money differently this time? Gilmore: Need to look at it.

Atkinson: We need to look at the age of current inventory. When does the window to apply for the state money end? Gilmore: It is a 3-year window. Ends at the end of 1014. Atkinson: So, we can wait and come back to this.

Edler: We need to consider what programs we have and which ones require transportation. There is some inequity now. We offer programs, like at magnet schools, that are available only to those who can afford to travel, afford their own transportation.
Womack: Need to be cautious. Those types of schools were taken out of the transportation funding to help the budget. We can’t add things back into the budget until we know what the tax digest will look like. The county can’t take another tax increase on top of the 28% increase we just had by the county.

Cunningham: Make sure we are working with the county as far as price, as far as employment. We need to be the frontrunners on this.
Gilmore: Marietta City Bus doesn’t pay market price like what he was quoting. Government pricing on fuel is better. They get $3,572.57 in savings = $50,015.97 per bus for 14 year span.
Womack: Myself and Mr. Cunningham co-chair government relations. Keep us informed. Work with Atlanta Gas Light for pricing.
Jester: Gilmore to report back by March 8 or March 22 meeting with firm numbers.

3. Cell Tower Funds Allocation
Womack opens discussion by stating that when the cell tower proposal first came to them, it included a 60 / 40 % split of the monthly revenue, with 60% going to the school and 40% going to the general fund for schools without towers. He mentioned that “some board member” somehow confused matters and it now appears that the final contracts are not reflective of this original split and this subject is not anything that they had discussed.
Jester inputs that she does not ever recall discussing that split during the vote either, but they could go back and look at it.
Womack wants to clarify what was discussed and agreed upon, because he has now heard that the contracts came back with only 25% going to the school. Some of his constituents are mad about it because they believe the schools with the towers should receive the majority of the money since they are the ones taking on the burden of a cell tower.
Edler: Burden?
Womack: Well, that’s what they consider it. Some of them have made it quite clear that they don’t want it and it will be a burden. That’s how they see it so that’s why I am asking.
He asks Donahue how they had left the item last time when the group discussed a split of the funds. Donahue said they had not decided and he thought that when the time came that it would be decided by the CFO, or the former CFO who was in charge at the time. Donahue: I don’t remember anything about that. Edler: No. Jester: Me either. How much are we talking about? Womack: $450K allocations for the lifetime of the contracts, is that right Mr. Donahue?
Steve Donahue – refers to the contract and states that there is a line item that states $25K is allocated for the breaking of ground at the school. Yes, the 60/40 split was part of the initial proposal (and what was done in Cobb County just prior to T-mobile’s proposal to DeKalb), but there was no indication about a split. He believes Womack is referring to the $25K (not 25%) that is a separate payment that is to be paid upon breaking ground at the school.
Atkinson – We will have to go back and look at the meeting minutes and notes and watch it back if we need to if there is a question about whether what was executed is not what the board voted and agreed on. We would have to make it an Action Item here first and then make it an Action Item for the board as a whole if we see something that we need to vote on again or discuss in order to make it right.
Edler – I believe we did discuss it and we determined that the one-time payment would go to the school’s PTA or PTSA, not the school. I don’t agree that it needs to be brought up again. I think it was pretty clear.
Atkinson – We would need to bring this up under a Committee of the Whole.
Womack – I disagree totally with what Ms. Edler said. I think we assigned the money to the local school.
Jester – when you say to the school, do you mean the school and NOT to the PTA? From T-mobile directly or would DCSS act as a middle man?
Donahue – No, we are the middleman and that’s why we had not decided it, yet.
Cunningham – Wait just a moment here. I do remember discussing it and we decided it was going to go to the PTA. I mean, this whole thing went by us a little fast. That’s one of the reasons I was okay with it – because of the money going to help the PTAs, not to mention that some of the schools actually need the towers to get the, um, wireless.
Donahue – The $16,800 annual rent lump sum has not been codified. It’s likely that the Finance area is the one that reallocated it.
Edler – If there is any “burden” it would be the liability and that is not a school specific issue, it’s a matter for the school system. Therefore I think we decided the school system should get the funds. If we allocate $25,000 to the schools, are we going to take $25K back out of their operating budget from someplace else? I mean, there are other schools that could probably really use some of that money.
Donahue – Can I finish? I had a little more here.
Atkinson – Oh there’s more. By all means…
Donahue – Then there is the amount of the co-locator dollars. It is another $25K to go to the school or PTA for every co-locator and each tower can accommodate up to 4 co-locations per site. The additional lease revenue is $4,800 per year.
Edler – What happens to that $25,000 if there is litigation?
Womack – Well, that’s another thing entirely
Atkinson – I think you need to be careful if there is any litigation pending because if you give that money to the schools, I imagine they are going to spend it fairly quickly. And, if something happens that we have to pay that money back, where are you going to get it?
Edler – You’ll have to take it out of their allotment of funds somehow.
Atkinson – Well we will have to go back and take a look at all of this, so I think for now that’s about it unless Mr. Donahue has anything else? Donahue – that’s it.
Atkinson – does anyone else on the board have anything to add for today?
Cunningham: Would like to open an issue perhaps for next meeting. There may be an issue or concern about the landscaping and cleaning at some of the schools, even the newer schools.

C. Citizen Comments
(1)Get the Cell Out – Atlanta: There was an initial amount of $2K per school upon signing of the contract. Did that amount get allocated? Is that something you need to talk about?
Womack: We’ll have to bring that up at another time.

Briarlake parent: We do not want the tower or the money. If you can, please give both to a school that might want the tower for the technology or need the money. Respectfully ask for school to be removed from the list.

D. Adjourn

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20 Responses to Meeting Notes: Budget, Audit, Finance & Facilities Committee Meeting, Feb 15

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like Womack think if Briarlake gets a “cut” they’ll be okay. I guess he thinks they’ll throw the students overboard like he and the BOE does for some money. Why is Edler asking why it’s a “burden”? She got her schools out of cell towers and voted against the whole deal. Surely she knows how bad this is for the students of this schools with a small campus.

  2. The Deal says:

    It is unbelievable how our board can support something (cell towers) so strongly and yet have no clue what is going on with the agreement. They have no idea what they are supporting. Just when you think you’ve seen it all.

  3. Cell towers should be a yes or no for all Dekalb Schools. There should be no opting in or out. This is ONE SCHOOLS SYSTEM and I am tired of the divide. Can we please educate all of the children?

  4. Taxpayer in DeKalb says:

    I think Edler was asking “burden?” because she was surprised to hear Womack call it that. Since he was the one who brought the cell tower issue to the board in the first place, she was probably curious about what part of it he was considering a burden.

    Also, I don’t think Edler had any schools that were on the list for cell towers. She didn’t get any schools off. McChesney made an ammendment to the original list that would remove three schools that were outspoken against the towers from the beginning. That motion passed with all excpet Edler voting yes. Edler did not want to “oick and choose” among schools.

    After the McChesney ammendment, Edler made a motion to remove all schools except two (Lakeside and Briarlake) because the board was mostly under the impression that those two schools were in favor of cell towers. Her motion failed, so they then voted upon the 9 schools and that vote passed 6 – 2 – 1. Edler and Jester voting against. Bowen being absent that evening.

  5. Taxpayer in DeKalb says:

    meant to say “pick and choose”

  6. The Deal says:

    The sad thing is that parents and community members have to waste their own time trying to make the board realize that this is a bad idea all around. They are scraping for “pennies” with this deal when they have 300+ extra people at the central office, even more overpaid legitimate positions, and many empty properties that should either be sold or leased. All of that revenue would dwarf this cell tower money and be a better use of time and energy. Going through with this cell tower deal at this point in DCSS’s organization would be like a family having cable + movie channels, eating out every night, buying extraneous junk every day, and then selling plasma to get a few extra bucks. Stupid all around.

  7. I loved how the pizza man said this proposal was rushed through and I think some of the details were not in place. YOU THINK? Womack snuck this thing onto an agenda and the next thing you know, it’s a done deal with no discussion from the schools it was affecting. This BOE continues to make comments that actually run rough shod over previous comments they make. Just think if our BOE had actual transcripts of meetings they would know what they voted on. Transparency my …………

  8. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    Exactly true Media Guy. If you recall, the board meeting at which this was passed was chaired by Womack himself, as Tom Bowen was out of town. Womack raced through the issue, pushing hard for passage and even admonishing anyone who took issue with the topic. It was incredible.

  9. Steven says:

    After the meeting it was mentioned by a board member that the towers were a political favor for a resident of another member’s district that didn’t have cell service and it was just a “convenience thing” and not about the money.

  10. The Deal says:

    Why can’t that board member say that publicly? That would be tremendously helpful to the families who are spending so many hours on this effort!

  11. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    The story is that something happened to a kid on the field at Lakeside and they didn’t have cell service to call 911 so now they have to build a tower on site. Funny that no one thought to run in the building and use the old-fashioned hard-wired phone that is registered with the county 911 system.

  12. @ Steven, 10:38 AM

    Which BOE member, Steven? Please provide the BOE member’s name. If you overheard the BOE member’s comment, please tell us who said it. If someone else who was present at the meeting told you this, please ask that person to identify the BOE member to DeKalb School Watch.

    It is critically important to not allow these BOE members to remain anonymous. This is how they have gotten away with so much wrongdoing. They have lost our trust and no longer deserve the benefit of the doubt.

    You may send the BOE member’s name to We will keep your identity confidential.

  13. Taxpayer in DeKalb says:

    First of all, Lakeside has cell service, including 911 service. They just don’t have AT&T. Verizon works well over there as many people have reported.

    The story about the person who had a seizure on the grounds of Lakeside several years ago was told by Womack at the meeting he held in September at Briarlake Elementary, but he stated that the people involved did not have a cell PHONE and therefore they had to send someone inside to call 911 which took an extra 10 – 15 mintues. But, 911 was called and the person who was having the seizure turned out to be fine. This doesn’t sound like a valid reason to suggest that 12 schools in the county (as originally proposed) must now allow cell towers onto their school grounds and give up that space so that T-mobile can avoid paying its fair share of commercial property taxes.

    All cell towers are 911 towers as required by the FCC. Any cell phone, even if you do not have a cell service provider, can call 911 as long as the battery is charged.

  14. Curious says:

    I thought Lakeside tried to get a tower a few years back and they couldn’t because the school sits on donated property that is stipulated cannot be used for commercial profit. That would explain why they wanted Briarlake to have a tower so close to them (if they already knew they would not be allowed to get the one proposed for their school). But, why all the other schools? Is that just something “extra” that the tower company wanted so the school board decided to throw it in, too?

  15. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    If anyone wants to read the contract, you can find it here:

  16. GTCO-ATL says:

    FYI, that is the “final draft” of the contract. The actual contracts have not been made public, although Brairlake and Margaret Harris schools claim they have received copies of their signed leases via Open Records Request. Each school has its own lease agreement and there are some differences in terms of the specs of the towers, location attachments, etc. It did not appear the contracts were signed by Legal, though, so the schools are not sure they got the “real” final versions.

    Get the Cell Out has put forth three open records requests so far in an attempt to get copies of all the leases to be made public, but no luck so far. It is not clear if Atkinson actually signed the original leases in December (along with Bowen) or if this was just transferring the approval of the leases over to her name for admin. purposes. It was mentioned in the vote in July that the “signature would be affixed” immediately following the vote, next business day, and therefore the decision would be final. That would lead one to think Tyson’s name would have been on there as the signer.

    Not sure if that makes a difference since either way, the documents would have been signed based on the board’s vote, but it does affect the timing of the due diligence period. We suspect the budget committee is gearing up to accept the initial $25K, so we expect that ground will soon be broken on these camuses. Walter Woods stated to the media that he thought the construction would begin in March.

    If any PTA officers are irate over the dangle of a $25K carrot, they are welcome to change gears and decide to oppose the towers formally, like Briarlake has done. However, we suggest they use their opposition funds wisely and consult an attorney.

    Anyone interested in more information can email

  17. GTCO-ATL says:

    Thank you, The Deal, you are right about the waste of time for the parents and community members …. it sucks. It really, really sucks.

  18. Anonymous says:

    We have complete idiots running our school system. It’s horrible! This conversation sounds like elementary school kids. Why don’t they KNOW about a contract they have talked about? And if they don’t know about it, why don’t they have someone at the meeting pull it up on a computer screen? That is idiotic!!!

  19. The Deal says:

    And WHY are they standing so firm on something they obviously don’t even understand?

  20. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    That is curious. Each board member has a laptop and internet installed at home. They also were each recently given an iPad. It seems they could have every document they need at their fingertips. It’s very antiquated to have to call another meeting at another date to discuss a contract that has been on the table (and we’re told, signed) for months.

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