DeKalb School District Boosts Budget Surplus to $30.9 Million: Truth be Told

News Release 8 September 2014

The DeKalb County School District today announced a 35-percent increase in its projected surplus for Fiscal Year 2014, reporting an additional $10.9 million in projected reserves over the $20 million surplus previously reported.

Superintendent Michael Thurmond cited an increase in revenue collections as well as lower expenditures to produce a projected FY14 fund balance of $30.9 million.

“The additional $10.9 million in reserves demonstrates that we are making significant progress in stabilizing the finances of the DeKalb County School District,” said Mr. Thurmond. “Our goal is a fund balance of $66 million. We’re just halfway there, but we are confident that we will reach that milestone.” When Mr. Thurmond was appointed interim superintendent in February 2013, the general operating fund balance stood at only $100,000.

Earlier this year, the district announced an anticipated surplus of $20 million in a budget that made new investments in instruction, technology and school safety. The FY14 budget also eliminated furlough days, and provided the first pay raises to teachers and staff in six years.

“We’ve maximized existing revenue streams, reduced legal expenses and have gained better control over personnel costs,” said Dr. Melvin Johnson, Chair of the DeKalb Board of Education.

“We now have more accurate projections of our costs, and we’re avoiding the overspending that occurred in the past. There has been a tremendous turnaround in legal expenses alone, allowing us to shift those dollars from courtrooms to classrooms.”

“We’ve made significant progress in a short period of time,” said Mr. Thurmond, “and we have every expectation of attaining full financial health for the DeKalb County School District.”

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Ok. Well and good. And a far cry from where we were in 2012 [broke]. But keep in mind, this increase is essentially a windfall. When property values decreased during the Great Recession, the previous board increased the millage rate on property taxes in order to generate the revenue budgeted. In fact, the overall operating budget increased by $9 million FY 2013 – the year after that tax increase and $19 million more in FY 2014. Now that values have returned to where they were previously, this board did NOT roll back the millage rate. Instead, they are enjoying the windfall of increased tax collections due to increased property values plus an increased millage rate. In fact, the estimated operating budget for FY 2015 is projected to increase yet again, by another $17 million, much of it due to property tax increases. Overall, the school district has collected an increase of at least $45 million in revenues over three years, all while crying poor.

Simply put, FY14 local revenue was about $25 million more than anticipated. And the school district also received $7.5 million in the Heery settlement which is considered revenue. Together, they nearly make up the $30 million in additional revenue.

And yes, while we are pleased that the Heery case was settled and we won’t be getting billed by King & Spalding for that case anymore, we remain concerned that we still employ too many lawyers and our legal fees budget will once again end the year in a deficit. We now have one main legal firm, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, as General Counsel at an earned retainer rate of $65,000, per month, plus expenses, along with several others contracted for specialty work according to Ron Ramsey’s report in the August 4, 2014 minutes, in addition to Thurmond’s own hiring of McKenna Long & Aldridge to the tune of $50,000 a month for ‘board governance training’. As far as we can tell, we have paid them over a half-million thus far for this training. Yet, still, word from the administration remains, “we can’t afford a full forensic audit.”

Also, while those ‘controls over personnel costs’ have mostly meant cuts to teachers and school staff, not administrative personnel, please keep in mind, they have not even uttered a word about reinstating the contributions taken away from teachers’ pensions, which account for millions in budget cuts. Annuity pension contributions that were promised decades ago in exchange for agreeing to forgo Social Security — were cut completely in 2010. Now, all teachers have is the state’s Teacher’s Retirement System for their retirement savings – no annuity and no Social Security. And yet, in spite of these horrific cuts to teachers and staff, our board remains proud of their ‘fiscal’ actions.

It ain’t right. We take in plenty of money to pay teachers well and to attract the best and brightest teachers into our classrooms. Some serious budget adjustments, prioritizing and consolidations still need to occur. While it’s true that some legal fees have been reduced, tax collections have increased and teacher cuts remain in effect, resulting in these new budget increases. Bottom line: an awful lot of heavy work is yet to be done in order to create a sustainable, successful system in perpetuity.

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According to the FY15 budget, General Fund revenue has been going through the roof the last few years:
FY2012: $755 million
FY2013: $764 million
FY2014: $785 million*
FY2015: $802 million**

*FY14 revenue is extrapolated from June 2014 actuals. **FY2015 is estimated in the budget. Note: FY14 local revenue was about $25 million more than anticipated. The school district also received $7.5 million in the Heery settlement which is considered revenue.

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53 Responses to DeKalb School District Boosts Budget Surplus to $30.9 Million: Truth be Told

  1. Here’s the actual quote from the article on the subject of the Druid Hills resident’s request to break up his land:

    In other words, Buckler never needed HPC approval. DeKalb Planning Commission member Wendy Butler, a land-use lawyer, reviewed the letter and came to the same conclusion. She made the motion to allow Buckler to proceed.

    “I don’t want to set aside a community’s emotion, but you never can set aside the law,” said Butler, who has since left the planning panel. “While it may be an unpleasant decision, I believe it was the right one.”

    The law is the law. If it’s bad – it needs changed. Legislators do that. County commissioners do not. But they can make recommendations to legislators!

    FWIW, this is why it’s a good idea to have lawyers as legislators. Generally, they are better at writing laws.

  2. Further, although we do engage in conversation about county commissioners and county shenanigans, we really do try to stay focused on school system issues. The school system is a whole ‘nother can of worms – the focus is very different from the county focus. The county leaders are strictly concerned with day to day management of our communities, our safety, our parks, our trash, and our building projects. The school system has the futures of hundreds of thousands of our children in their hands. We care very much about the kind of job they are doing. It’s our focus here on this blog. Too much conversation about county issues will seriously dilute our school system discussions. (Maybe someone would like to start at DeKalbCountyWatch blog?)

  3. September says:

    @Northlake Mom. You are absolutely correct about the problem of developers building apartment complexes that we don’t need in the Northlake area. The zoning board allows a formula that underestimates the number of children the new community will add to the local schools. When those luxury apartments don’t fill, they become subsidized housing for low income families. I don’t think the school system pays enough attention to this problem. I’ve never heard a school system representative speak at a zoning board hearing. The result is overcrowded schools with high student turnover rates. As those turnover rates rise, middle class families flee.

  4. overandout2 says:

    Mr. Jester,

    Regardless of where the money comes from – local or state – I am being compensated at the lowest dollar amount allowed by law. That’s comforting to know. So my argument still stands – DeKalb is using their discretionary power to push money to the new teachers at the expense of experienced teachers. And, yes you are correct – DeKalb took away all of the furlough days and at the same time decreased the daily rate. My daily rate last year was 273.10 and now it is 270.40. Net pay has gone down for years!

    By the way, a lot of teachers are counting on the new board to lead this county in a new direction. Many of us are holding on for one more year in hopes that you will recruit a superintendent who can work along with the board to set things right – please don’t disappoint!

  5. DCSD FOR DUMMIES says:

    Nepotism is still rampant and live the DCSD.

  6. midvaledad says:

    DCSD for Dummies is right.

    How many family members of the old board are still employed. Only the BOE was removed, not their inept, overpaid family members.

  7. overandout2 says:

    Mr. Jester,

    Thank you for your response. I’m not going to bore everyone with the same complaints you have heard over and over from teachers on this blog. Suffice it to say that most reasonable people would agree that the compensation package for DeKalb teachers is not competitive, fair, or close to matching the demands of the job.

    The bigger question is this? If it is so bad, why are there still teachers hanging on in DeKalb? There are many reasons – some are residents of DeKalb and attended DeKalb schools in their youth. Others have deep roots with families that attend their schools. Still others are connected to their co-workers and can’t imagine teaching anywhere else. Most stay simply because they love the work and the kids they serve.

    Those of us that are still here are looking to you and the other board members to lead this county out of the miserable mess we have been in for such a long time. We are counting on you to conduct a fair, honest, and transparent superintendent search. We hope and pray that you will find a leader who will work to restore this county to what it should have been all along.

    If you do your job, you can bet that the teachers will do everything in our power to put DeKalb back on top.

    Let’s do it, please.

  8. DCSD FOR DUMMIES says:

    In Dekalb, you don’t have to be good at what you do. You have to be loyal, likeable, run errands, volunteer, buck dance, join a sorority or fraternity, be related to someone, etc. I know people who have been applying for promotions for years. These people are good at what they do, yet the majority of them do not even get an opportunity to interview. Most instances, they know who they want for the job prior to posting it. They’ll tell the applicant to wait until the position posts on PATS and then apply for it. One of my old colleagues said that she’s been certified since 1979, but has not gotten a position as an assistant principal yet. Behind the fancy cars and suits are incompetent people, many who make 6 figures or close to it. They will call over to other schools to provide unfavorable references to hinder an applicant from getting a job. DeKalb, the district who will promote the worst and blackball the best. I know, I’ve witnessed it, and I am a survivor.

  9. Citizen group proposes deep reforms in DeKalb
    By Mark Niesse
    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    A group of DeKalb County residents is recommending a series of changes to help overhaul a county tainted by allegations of corruption.

    The group’s Blueprint to Redefine DeKalb County calls for an internal audit watchdog, independent appointments of members of the Board of Ethics, a vote on term limits and greater financial transparency.

    A community meeting on the Blueprint is scheduled for Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m. in the Maloof Auditorium in Decatur.

    Details about the group’s suggestions are available at BlueprintDeKalb.org.

  10. Tom Reilly says:

    Doug Dillard, Wendy Butler, Kathie Zickert, Dennis Webb, Collette McDonald, Bob Lundsten… We have about TEN days to go before elections start. Start connecting the dots, people!!

  11. NOTICE OF DEKALB BOARD OF EDUCATION RETREAT & CALLED MEETING

    The DeKalb Board of Education will hold a retreat at 4:00pm, Thursday,
    October 23, 2014, in the Cabinet Room, in the Robert R. Freeman
    Administrative & Instructional Complex, 1701 Mountain Industrial
    Boulevard, Stone Mountain, GA 30083. Immediately following the retreat,
    the Board will move to an open called meeting.

    Meeting information can be accessed online by going to: http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us, click on Leadership, go to eBoard Home Page and click on the date for the meeting agenda\information.

  12. This message is being sent on behalf of Georgia PTA State Legislative Chair, Dr. Detrius Jones:

    The fourth meeting of the House Study Committee on the Role of Federal Government in Education will be held on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. in the Continuing Education building (Room 108) at the University of North Georgia, Gainesville Campus, 3820 Mundy Mill Road, Oakwood, GA 30566.

    We need all the positive PTA voices that we can get to participate in the public comment period. The House Study Committee would especially like to hear from parents and educators. High academic standards reflect the intent of our Georgia PTA legislative priorities and public policy agenda.

    Georgia PTA supports efforts to strengthen and improve our education system to ensure that all students receive a high quality education, meet the required academic standards, and are prepared for a globally competitive workforce regardless of any disadvantages, special needs, or disabilities.

    Please join us as we take a stand with one voice for every child!

    Dr. Detrius Jones

    Georgia PTA – Chair, State Legislation

  13. Tom — we recognize most of these names. But, could you “connect the dots” for those who don’t know and could you link these people to education in DeKalb County, please?

Comments are closed.