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Today I attended the Emory-LaVista Parent Council meeting at Lakeside. Our superintendent , Mr. Thurmond, was the primary speaker. It was advertised as a state of the system update. It really did not follow that kind of format, but some interesting nuggets of information were discussed.
Mr. Thurmond initially tried to show us how he has built such a surplus into the budget. His estimate was that we would have a $20 million surplus in the FY 2015 budget. He attributed this to Dr. Bell and a hard working BOE. It certainly was not clear where this money was coming from, but I will hazard a guess. If memory serves me correctly Governor Deal returned approximately $540 million to the educational establishments across the state. It was generally intended to be used for teachers. It would hopefully be used to take away furlough days and give the teachers a salary increase. Of course our legislature neglected to say specifically how this money was to be used. Because of the lack of specifics, school systems could use the money at their discretion. I believe this is where we are getting some of our money that is going into the surplus. If all of this $540 million the state gave to all the school systems was used for salary increases, as it was intended, each teacher in the state might see as much as $4000 in salary increases. It would be less than that if the money was used to buy back furlough days too.
Some of the questions from the audience were about furlough days and salary increases. My take on his statements were that the teachers would at least have their furlough days decreased or possibly eliminated. He sounded pretty negative on salary increases for teachers. He basically said that he wanted $60 million in surplus before he could address raises. He also said that would be three budget cycles before we got there. He chided our sister school systems for spending portions of their surplus on their teachers. My take on this is that we have to be competitive with other systems to compete for the best teachers. I guess that is on the back burner.
Mr. Thurmond also appeared to be somewhat confused about the general state of our economy. He stated that the current recession had ended in 2009. He also stated that a new recession was starting now. I believe he attributed this to other “authorities” but he did not specifically say who. I found his economics lesson to be somewhat confusing.
He also spoke of the DeKalb School District eventually becoming an urban school model. This one confused me even further. I was not aware that we had made such strides in the last two years.
He took several questions from the audience. I felt like he did not answer any of them. He would ramble from one subject to another and do the political thing. Talk about what you want to talk about if you cannot answer the question.
He was quizzed about DeKalb becoming a charter system. One questioner said … how will this change things from the past? I am still waiting for an answer for that one. He talked a while, but I never clearly heard the question addressed.
He emphasized having to educate the parents. I guess this was to give support to his “bridge initiative”.
He was also asked about zero based budgeting so the budget can be crafted on money going to the classroom first. In a five minute discussion there was no answer to the question. He basically said everything will be decided by a committee and the superintendent would only have one vote. I will leave this to you to figure out what he meant by that.
He also referenced how they cut $6 million in legal fees. When Mr. Thurmond came on board the system was served by two full-time legal firms. This current BOE and Mr. Thurmond hired a third at $50,000 a month. He also leaves out that at any one time the BOE may have 5 to 10 additional attorney’s on the payroll that are handling many cases that are referred to as “complex litigation”. This is where your day to day firms say they have a conflict of interest and ask for additional attorney(s) to be brought on board or increase their fees because it is beyond the general scope of their retainer.
I think Mr. Thurmond tries to put a positive face on almost everything. I will give him credit for that. Unfortunately, not answering specific questions with real answers that include facts and data are damaging to him. There were people there that know he skirted almost all the issues. DeKalb has had this long enough. We need real answers to our questions.
– Don McChesney