So, are we solvent?!

Surprise: DeKalb school district has erased its deficit

By Ty Tagami
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“The financial deficit that swamped the DeKalb County School District is gone, erased, eliminated.” . . .

[This story continues on our new premium website for subscribers, MyAJC.com.]

Let’s hope. But remember, some people pay their light bill by shaking down their children’s piggy banks. We aren’t exactly certain where all of this ‘found’ money came from, but we do know some of it came from earnestly collected money for after-school programs. Thurmond didn’t elaborate in the least.

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Hosting a dialogue among parents, educators and community members focused on improving our schools and providing a quality, equitable education for each of our nearly 100,000 students. ~ "ipsa scientia potestas est" ~ "Knowledge itself is power"
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28 Responses to So, are we solvent?!

  1. ShooShee says:

    ha ha. That’s a good one!

  2. concerned citizen says:

    somehow, we just keep getting lies….

  3. Dekalbite2 says:

    Ms. Tyson’s 2011-12 budget showed a surplus (BOE members commended her profusely) which then turned into a tens of millions of dollars deficit when Dr. Atkinson tried to execute it. Deep cuts to the classroom as well as property tax increases were subsequently made by Dr. Atkinson with the BOE’s approval to bring the budget in line. Perhaps this very recent budget fiasco is why the AJC reporters and taxpayers are skeptical. How do we know this surplus is real? It turned out Ms. Tyson’s 2011-12 busget surplus was not really a surplus. Instead it was a deficit and in the end students suffered mightily.

  4. Dekalbite2 says:

    Look on PATS. Jobs (new) advertised for 14 non teaching Academic Data Coaches. Cramming the kids into unmanageable classrooms where teachers can only practice “crowd control” while Mr. Thurmond has plenty of money for non teaching Coaches. This is truly sad for students.

    At an average of $80,000 (that’s what the Coaches run with benefits) for 14 we will be paying $1,100,000+ for these NEW non teaching positions. And the Coaches refuse to directly instruct children. Rather they will be collecting data for Central Office person el. What taxpayer/parent is happy with this decision?

  5. Likely their job will be to “gently mold” the data into numbers that show false gains to perpetuate the stories of improved outcomes.

  6. Dekalbite2 says:

    Mr. Thurmond is on track to preside over yet another decline in student achievement. The Central Office personnel who are advising him must be telling him that all these non teaching personnel are required by Title 1. This is not true. If he bothered to read the Title 1 regulations, he would see that there is great deal of latitude given to school systems. Mr. Thurmond needs new advisors for the sake of the 95,000 students in DeKalb.

  7. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    @Dekalbite2, why do you think Thurmond would do any different if he new any better? He’s bringing back those parent centers to South DeKalb that were closed down a few years back because they were expensive and useless. We have this magical budget that keeps coming up with more money and Thurmond continues to create more non teaching jobs.

    Thurmond, as far as I’m concerned, is an extension of Walker.

  8. Dekalbite2 says:

    @DIO
    “He’s bringing back those parent centers to South DeKalb that were closed down a few years back because they were expensive and useless.”

    That is true. Many of the parent center jobs were manned by family and friends, required no license or certification or special training (unlike all of the other metro school systems) and cost more than the other metro systems. Look how far out of line the parent involvement cost was:
    http://dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com/2011/11/73000-dcss-secretarial-positions-are.html

    The BOE members should be asking for quantifiable measurable objectives with established benchmarks before they bring these centers back. We were spending $4,500,000 a year for 79 employees in these centers without one SHRED of data supporting their efficacy. As a matter of fact, most of the schools WITH parent centers saw DECREASES in their ability to make adequate yearly progress.

    Obviously, Mr. Thurmond does not understand that teachers in the classroom directly instructing students is the investment he MUST make if he is to improve student achievement. Improving student achievement is the one job he MUST do. If he fails at that job, he has failed as a superintendent.

    Mr. Thurmond has already show poor management skills as he has exacerbated the flight of hundreds of teachers from DeKalb. He has done absolutely nothing to ensure students have competent, adequately compensated teachers in reasonably sized classroom – the most critical components for student success, particularly in low income schools. It is the students and taxpayers who are paying the price for his mismanagement.

    Mr. Thurmond knows that parents want competent, well compensated teachers in reasonably sized classrooms for their children, but he is not willing to give up the Family and Friends group that has proved so detrimental for students.

  9. momfromhe11 says:

    Here is the article:

    The financial deficit that swamped the DeKalb County School District is gone, erased, eliminated.
    It just evaporated.
    That’s what the new chief finance officer of the once financially troubled school district told the new school board Monday.

    The news on closing the books for fiscal year 2013, which ended in June, is “very, very good,” Mike Bell said. “We’re confident that we are out of a deficit position.”

    Really?

    That was how more than one DeKalb taxpayer reacted to the news.

    “Do you believe all this,” said an incredulous Paige Olson, who sent three children through the county school system, the last one graduating in the spring. “It’s good news — if it’s real,” the Dunwoody resident said.

    An earlier announcement by new interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond was received with similar skepticism.

    Former CFO Michael Perrone quit on the same day in May that Thurmond announced nearly $30 million in surprise revenue. Before that day, the school board was poised for more budget cutting. Instead of cutbacks, they wound up supplementing the budget, eliminating one of the six furlough days previously imposed on teachers.

    The announcement Monday refers to a deficit first documented by the state last fall. DeKalb’s books showed a $14.5 million deficit for the fiscal year that ended in June 2012. The school board in place at that time determined to eliminate the deficit over four years, but Bell said cost-cutting and yet more surprises with revenue means the deficit can be eliminated in an instant as of the end of fiscal year 2013.

    Bell said local property tax collections exceeded projections by more than $20 million and that a spending freeze imposed by Thurmond after his hire earlier this year added to the surplus. He said the district was no longer engaged in fiscal “pathologies” that led to the deficit, such as under budgeting for legal expenses.

    But Bell cautioned that DeKalb still lacks a financial cushion, with only $5 million to $10 million in the bank. A district this size should have more like a $60 million fund balance, he said.

    Thurmond said every board member has asked him to spend any surplus on teachers, by reducing the remaining five furlough days, which are unpaid days off.

    “It’s great news,” said David Schutten, president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to get rid of a few furlough days.”

    Board members reacted with pleasure, but also asked for details, such as how the news will affect the new budget for fiscal year 2014.

    “This is obviously great news,” said John Coleman, a board member from Dunwoody. “A lot of this is because of improvements in the property tax collection and the beverage tax collection.”

    Bell predicted that fiscal year 2014 “will be just as good if not better.”

    Olson said residents have been hit with one financial surprise after another. During budget discussions in 2012, then Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson revealed news about previously undisclosed bills that had to be paid. The disclosure necessitated deep budget cutting and touched off rancorous debates while contributing to an accreditation agency’s decision to place the district on probation. Then came Thurmond’s surprise surpluses, and now this.

    Thurmond, though, said the good news is real.

    “We have turned the corner and closed the book, I believe, on a very difficult chapter in the history of this district,” he said. “The deficit is no more.”

  10. Dekalbite2 says:

    “During budget discussions in 2012, then Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson revealed news about previously undisclosed bills that had to be paid. The disclosure necessitated deep budget cutting and touched off rancorous debates while contributing to an accreditation agency’s decision to place the district on probation”

    This refers to Ms. Tyson’s 2011-12 budget that was supposed to have a surplus but really was a deficit when Dr. Atkinson looked more closely:

    https://dekalbschoolwatch.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/approved-budget-detail-2012.pdf

  11. Dekalbite2 says:

    This is what was “forgotten” in Ms Tyson’s budget for 2011-12 which Dr. Atkinson inherited:

    “School officials in thought the third Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, known as SPLOST III, would pay for the projects and borrowed $300 million. However, for some reason that has yet to be explained, they did not factor in the $60 million needed to cover the costs of borrowing, such as interest.”

    http://www.reporternewspapers.net/2012/03/01/dekalb-schools-facing-41-million-shortfall/

    No wonder taxpayers are skeptical. Now Mr. Thurmond is posting jobs for 14 non teaching Academic Data Coaches. Why does he have money for non teaching staff that have absolutely no accountability for student performance but no money for teachers who actually instruct students?

  12. Stan Jester says:

    08/05/2013 – Board Meetinghttp://factchecker.stanjester.com/
    DeKalb Schools’ theme, “New leadership, new vision, new direction: Improving student performance through parental engagement”, seems to translate into the board and administration creating new non teaching positions. This is Friends and Family 2.0.

    I have summarized/editorialized and provided links to the recap and video clips of the meeting’s highlights.

    * School Readiness Report
    * Financial Report
    * Human Resources Report
    * After School Program (ASP) Money
    * School Attendance Lines
    * English Language Learner District Plan

    –Stan

  13. Dekalbite2 says:

    @Stan

    It is truly shocking that 700 teachers left the classrooms of DeKalb this year, yet Mr. Thurmond and the BOE have done absolutely NOTHING to retain them. What are they thinking? Parents/taxpayers want smaller class sizes and marketplace compensated teachers. Mr. Thurmnd has heard that time and again from parents yet he continues to invest in programs and departments outside the classroom, starving the students and teachers in the schoolhouse.

    Although all DeKalb students will be negatively impacted by Mr. Thurmond’s short sighted “vision” that has resulted in driving teachers away from the classrooms in unprecedented numbers, the students who suffer the most will be those students in the Title 1 schools because they rely on direct instruction and individualized attention rom teachers more than those students in the middle and upper income level schools.

  14. whyaminotsurprised says:

    I thought that the After School Money was removed from the “found” pile after all the parent complaints – do we have a link to the data where it was put back in? The communication about what is going on from the county is back to where it was even before we got on probation the first time.

    Also, I see one way they reduced costs was to shorten the school year by several days. This doesn’t seem balanced to me.

  15. Dekalbite2 says:

    @Whyaminotsurprised

    According to another poster, the fact they used SPLOST money to buy the cars meant they can reduce the mileage reimbursement this year. This reduced the SPLOST money available for techology for students, new schools, repairing roofs, etc. but it the advantage for Mr. Thurmond is that it moved the travel expense from the General Operations budget to the SPLOST budget which made the General Operations budget look better. This runs counter to what the voters voted for with SPLOST, but if they can get away with it, then the budget looks better.

    Letting 700 teachers leave was probably fine with Mr. Thurmond since they can hire cheaper people to teach the students. That’s a substantial savings as well. Not really good from a student achievement standpoint, but then moving students forward academically is not a priority for this administration.

    Much sleight of hand went into this budget, and none of it is related to student achievement. That is not even a concern to Mr. Thurmond. Absolutely absent from any of his discussions with the BOE are quantifiably measurable academic objectives or any plan to meet stated objectives. Students are the least of his concerns and apparently the least of the Board members’ concerns as well.

  16. Bye bye says:

    Here’s another bump in the road that Thurmond is probably not prepared for. I am hearing, at least for the elementary schools in my neighborhood, that kindergarten enrollment is lower than projected at several elementary schools. One school, enrollment is lower in all grades.

    While losing children sounds like it would not impact the budget negatively, it will impact revenue. Additionally the budget considers economies of scale and Thurmond this year has been very big on presuming that all classes will be maxed out. Expect much chaos the first six weeks of school as teachers are moved around.

    I am curious as to what others are hearing about enrollment. From the get-go, the projections for the school system were overly optimistic in my opinion.

  17. whyaminotsurprised says:

    @Dekalbite2

    Do you know if they played the “sleight of hand” w/ the afterschool $?

    They could really save $ if they cut the school year to 100 days! ಠ_ಠ (please, all, see the sarcasm in that statement).

  18. whyaminotsurprised says:

    @ Bye Bye
    For our area, I’ve heard enrollment is lower, I’ve heard enrollment is up. I’ve heard many students in the lower grades went to the Globe Charter (lower #s for individual schools, but not for he district as a whole); I’ve heard a crisis @ the Globe charter last week has folks running back to their home schools. We may not know the true #s for a few weeks.

  19. Dekalbite2 says:

    @whyaminoturprised

    I don’t know anything about the after school money. All of the speculation on how the budget suddenly righted itself is just conjecture on the part of taxpayers including me since it has not been made transparent.

    For years taxpayers have been calling for a online check registry. That would go a long way to providing the transparency that the taxpayers want and need in order to regain their trust.

  20. Concernedmom30329 says:

    Globe Charter numbers count as part of system total, so for the system that will be a wash. There was an article in the NY Times recently about income mobility across generations in various cities. It focused on a family in St. Mountain and I expect that we will still see growth in areas where families simply don’t have choices. However, I have heard that the “named” private schools have record # of applications from DCSS students.

  21. Stan Jester says:

    Budget Shenanigans
    DeKalb Schools FY 2013 budget is based on deception.

    Budget Trick #1
    WAY over estimate QBE funds. DeKalb Schools estimates 99,676 students , yet the student population has declined every year for the last 7 years. (Note: The 99,676 probably includes Pre-k which doesn’t qualify for QBE funds)

    Student FTE Count (DOE only reports through FY 2011)
    Year – FTE Count
    2006 – 99,544
    2007 – 98,713
    2008 – 97,580
    2009 – 96,907
    2010 – 96,678
    2011 – 95,481

    QBE Revenue (From System.xls Budget Hearing Doc)
    $345,947,423 – FY 2011 ACTUAL
    $351,675,279 – FY 2012 ACTUAL
    $357,538,292 – FY 2013 BUDGETED
    $429,195,278 – FY 2013 BUDGETED

    Quite the jump in estimated QBE funds!

    –Stan

  22. momfromhe11 says:

    Thank you, Stan. Not surprising but still quite disheartening.

  23. concerned citizen says:

    That’s amazing, Stan. Also, your work on the board meeting was outstanding. Of course, Thurmond and crew probably don’t like what you reported at all because it was “just the facts!” They probably don’t want school to open Monday, and it looks like they’re going to get their wish. Let’s assign Thurmond to teach a ninth grade remedial math class at Towers until there is an assigned teacher, however long that takes; let’s assign Ramona to teach English 10th grade advanced at McNair High; let’s assign Smith to teach biology at Freedom Middle; let’s assign Beasley to teach social studies 8th grade at Tucker Middle; let’s assign …..you get the picture! They can’t do it!

  24. bettyandveronica1 says:

    The found money in the budget came from their assumption the state, federal programs will reimburse them for their incompetence. Remember, Thurmond said they should have filed for dollars associated with certain programs but didn’t. In the proposed budget,the one Perrone quit over, the revenue included (assumed) they would be reimbursed at 100% of prior years of non filings. Will they or have they actually gotten 100% the funds..do we know? Smoke and mirrors, funny money, let’s celebrate.

  25. dsw2contributor says:

    Thank you Stan!

    In the “Back to School” discussion, concerned citizen posted this at August 13, 2013 at 1:48 PM: DCS has “36 elementary teachers missing, 42 high and mid school teachers missing….31 sp ed paraprofessionals, 31 paras instructional. Yet Ward-Smith promised 98% filled jobs.”

    Here is a theory about that very interesting discrepancy: The 78 “missing” teachers and 31 “missing” instructional paras would be needed to staff the schools at the inflated 99,676 Student FTE Count, while Ward-Smith’s “98% filled jobs” is based upon a realistic enrollment. In other words, DCS might be using one enrollment number to claim that they’re solvent, while using another enrollment number to actually staff the schools. (I think the accounting term for this is “keeping two sets of books.”)

    Is there any way to calculate the number of Student FTEs that would be taught by the 78 “missing” teachers and 31 “missing” instructional paras? (My guess is that the 31 special ed paras are needed.)

  26. bettyandveronica1 says:

    Isn’t the FTE count done again in October for the state?

  27. Stan Jester says:

    Ga DOE FY2013 FTE Data Collection General Information – Official student counts are done in October and March.

    To calculate the number of Student FTEs that would be taught by the missing teachers, you would need to know what grades they are teaching and cross reference that with Regular Class Size Limits. Limits are the same for this year.

  28. concerned citizen says:

    I believe you are right about the two sets of books, after I thought about the situation, DSWContributor. I know the system is that devious. Yes, I agree the spec ed paras are needed. What can we do to push for an explanation?

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