$50 Million More For DeKalb Teachers?

Posted at the Fact Checker on March 4, 2015 by Stan Jester

At the DeKalb School Board meeting this past Monday (March 2), the CFO said it would take $50 million to $60 million to get us to 65% classroom expenditures in FY16.

Vice Chair Jim McMahan moved to make 65% of the operating expenditures spent in the classroom a requirement for the budget next year.

Perhaps we should start from the beginning. As discussed in Just Say NO to Waivers over the weekend, “Classrooms First for Georgia” requires, at a minimum, 65% of a system’s total operating funds to be spent in the classroom. FY14 fell woefully short of that requirement which brings us to this discussion at the board meeting on Monday where the administration requested a waiver for FY14.

(Transcript from 3/2 Board Meeting – edited for brevity)

Stan Jester (School Board) – Over the last few years we’ve needed this waiver and we are en route to needing this waiver again for FY15.

Dr. Michael Bell (CFO) – There are a number of variables that go into answering that question.

Michael Thurmond (Superintendent) – If the state would allow us to count this $50 million dollars we are using to pay off the deficit and grow the fund balance, then that percentage would look differently.

Bell – If we spent the fund balance on classroom instruction, it would take us over 65%.

Jester – We’ve built up a respectable fund balance. In FY16 I look forward to us being over that 65%.

Marshall Orson (School Board) – That’s where I was headed. Remember, that 65% is a floor … it’s not a ceiling. I hope we can all agree the most bang for our buck comes from the investments we make in the classrooms with our teachers that directly benefit students. I would like to ask that as we go into the FY16 budgeting cycle, that we be more ambitious with the investments in the classroom.

Thurmond – I agree with everything that has been said. We’ve been living in the basement, the first floor looks pretty nice.

Vickie Turner (School Board)
Not to belabor the point, I want to echo what Mr. Thurmond said. I expect that FY16 will render the results that we can all say we’re proud of. It may not be the ceiling, but progress is progress.

Jim McMahan (Board Vice Chair)
We have made huge strides in a short period of time. With the board’s support, I move that we make 65% of the operating expenditures spent in the classroom a requirement for the budget next year.

Nina Gupta (Nelson Mullins – General Counsel)
There isn’t anything that’s been noticed on the agenda for this kind of action. So, unless we can articulate an emergency that would require this kind of notice, I recommend that there not be a formal motion. But, if you would like to express a board aspiration that this is an expectation you would like to see, then certainly you can express that sentiment. But, I don’t think there is any basis for a formal board motion and vote at this time.”

Nina Gupta later told me the Georgia Open Meetings Act can be interpreted this way. We didn’t have the Georgia Open Meetings Act in front of us, so we were in no position to argue. Unfortunately, McMahan subsequently withdrew his motion.

I have asked the Board Chair and Superintendent to document the exact wording in the Georgia Open Meetings Act that legal counsel was relying on for their interpretation. Furthermore, I requested legal counsel explain how they arrived at their interpretation.

That’s where we stand with sending $50 million to $60 million more into the classroom next year. We welcome your thoughts.


Watch the portion of the meeting where the Title 50 Waiver was discussed >>

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This entry was posted in Board of Education Meetings, Budget Cuts, DeKalb County [GA] Board of Education, GA Legislature / Laws / O.C.G.A., Michael Thurmond, School Funding, Stan Jester and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to $50 Million More For DeKalb Teachers?

  1. Marshall Orson makes a very good point when he says that the board needs to set a goal to reach for classroom spending (he mentioned possibly 67%) and then the board must agree on what actions they must take in order to make that happen. They have to know what 67% spending in the classroom would look like. It requires a shift in thinking. If they make these arbitrary goals in a vacuum, they will never happen, as there are no specific targets to hit – just ‘aspirations’.

    And that is exactly how it’s been done for decades.

    The board needs to make the administration produce a deeply detailed line item budget. Then as the year progresses, that budget should be filled in as expenses occur and are tagged to the respective department. Each department needs to be intensely mindful of their budgets and their spending within those budgets. And the budgets should be allocated from the classroom up – not from the top down. This was a promise made by Cheryl Atkinson that was quickly sabotaged by some in power. The only way for this to work is there must a serious change in the power structure and personnel within that structure whose main goal is one thing: job protection.

    Thurmond has told us a lie from Day 1 on the job — that 600 central office staff were cut just before he arrived. In reality, many were transferred to other (schoolhouse based) budgets, but not actually cut completely. Many of those were rehired under new job titles. Others never even experienced a thought of being cut. It is only the teachers and their frontline staff who have suffered the cuts.

  2. Dr Bell is talking some funny money talk. He says that if you increase the numerator, you have to increase your denominator and it’s harder to increase the percentage. That is WRONG. All you have to do is MOVE money – not ADD new money and rearrange only the new money. He speaks just like a bureaucrat who doesn’t think about anything but increasing the budget by whining that you need more money – and we ‘promise’ to spend a larger percentage of it where we really should. No – CUTS need to be made where money is being spent outside the classroom – and redirect that money directly to the classroom. This is why we need a business leader in the position of CFO (as well as head of HR) – we have to make some serious, business-like decisions. We can’t think like government bureaucrats who are only focused on jobs (and contracts) for adults.

  3. teachermom says:

    The money needs to be specifically earmarked for teachers or we will never see it.

  4. DavidS says:

    Wow. That was painful to watch. You have Stan simply trying to get some plain language answers as to why we’re not meeting state spending requirements. Orson trying and actually making some lucid points. Bell taking ten minutes to explain that, since the state populates the form that indicates percentage of funds spent in the classroom, the county can’t cook the books (apparently, it’s the state’s fault we’re not meeting the requirement). Thurmond once again jumping in to congratulate a staff member for the wonderful job they’re doing. Turner not wanting to belabor the point, but doing so by speaking words while not saying anything. And McMahan making a motion that, according to our in-house lawyer that we cannot afford, cannot be voted on.
    The sad part is that this 25 minute discussion was about whether the school system should, you know, actually obey the law or not. I don’t believe the state has “suggested” that 65% of spending be in the classroom.
    DSW is correct: This is not about increasing overall spending. It’s about re-allocating the budget to meet state requirements. What a concept!

  5. FormerDekalbParent says:

    I must take up one point that keeps getting missed everytime the palace staff is discussed…all the non palace and F&F employees have been harmed by this system– no steps for loyal hard working employees that keep our old decrepit buildings open and safe for students everyday, the drivers and mechanics that keep the buses running with a shoew string staff and budget, I am amazed daily that more accidents have not happened. And slo, these loyal employees have had their retirement taken away and still are working hard for this system. Not all DCSS employees are teachers, and that gets lost. Try to have a principal rewire your school or fix the roof. Just putting it out there.

  6. All true FDP – which is why we always try to say ‘teachers and staff’ or ‘teachers and frontline staff’… We are certainly aware of the cuts made in the maintenance and transportation departments – but only at the lowest (schoolhouse) levels.

  7. Word Wall says:

    Any rational observer would recognize this whole charade as an exercise in self-serving doubletalk and a good example of the old “smoke and mirrors”strategy … The law says 65% of the budget must be spent on direct classroom expenditures, and Dekalb only spends 62% on it! And for the second month in a row, staff attorneys have insisted that board members CANNOT vote to follow State law, give teachers raises, or fund Social Security annuity payments. ??? Its all very strange indeed.

  8. teachermom says:

    Yes, any money intended for schoolhouse staff needs to include those working alongside teachers to provide a safe and comfortable learning environment. But not overpaid central office transplants.

  9. So….the administration feels we are being “dinged” for building our fund surplus as opposed to putting it in the classrooms to meet the state requirements? Did I hear that right? The excuse is that if we spent money on the children we wouldn’t be able to pad our bank account? While it’s better to be in the black than the red I’m not sure that’s the best argument for not putting the money where it belongs.

  10. DeKalb Emailer says:

    the fulton county schools budget website, at http://www.fultonschools.org/en/divisions/finserv/Pages/FY2015.aspx, is such a contrast to the dcsd budget info. there is summary info that even makes sense. wow. I’m not a budget person but I think they even have estimated the cost for various changes, so that one can see what system wide changes cost.

    the quick summary shows they spend 60.25% of the operating budget on teachers. instruction total cost is 67.6% of the operating budget. and they have an over $140 million fund balance.

    Click to access FY2015%20Brochure%205%206%202015.pdf

  11. dekalbteacher says:

    Dekalb emailer,

    Fulton County Schools also requires a phone interview during which prospective teacher candidates have to deliver a short lesson. I’d say our school district looks for a pulse and a teaching certificate.
    I’ve seen Dekalb job postings claiming that teachers have to deliver a lesson during the interview, but I’ve yet to meet one teacher or administrator who can verify this happens or has ever happened.
    Thurmond and the board seem to forget that students and teachers are more than line items in the budget.

  12. howdy1942 says:

    Unless we insist on an actual audit of our school budget and are able to actually see where this money is going and how it is actually getting spent, I’m suspicious of any of this so-called “talk” about a budget that “shows” 65% going to the classroom. My suspicion is that administrators would all of a sudden be shown as “counselors” and be paid out of funds “shown” as being part of the “classroom budget”.

    After hearing from those “staff attorneys”, I know where I would begin cutting the budget and that would be with lawyers. For the school board to discuss doing something that would bring the Dekalb County School System into compliance with State Law should not only be allowed, but encouraged. Where did we get these lawyers from?

    I wish that we could get a school board that acted like a board of directors and a superintendent that acted like a chief executive officer and then maybe our school system could really make some progress toward bringing about the excellent school system that our kids deserve and that our residents expect. Cut the nonsense and dribble and get something done.

  13. Just wondering says:

    On Saturday there was a Professional Learning Class on testing. Mr. Thurmond spoke to the group. He stated that teachers were going to get a 2 percent raise next school year. I did not attend. A friend just sent me a text to share that with me. Perhaps someone who did attend could provide more details. I am grateful for any raise, but we still seem to be losing ground compared to other school districts.
    On another topic,
    It is usually very hard for people to get approved as a sub in DeKalb. I know that there are many recently retired educators.
    Does DeKalb reach out to these people?

  14. So what connected PTA members in Souh Dekalb have left the one Elementary School PTA now over 12k in Debt. It looks like some in the school administration were trying to cover it.

  15. DecaturMax says:

    2% raise seems pathetic when you look at what the competition is offering. Isn’t it about time for a serious retention and recruitment plan. Critical needs signing bonus? Better pay? Smaller classes? Large scale ESOL support? additional EIP support with a focus on recruiting experts at teaching learning disabilities …maybe pay for teachers to get full Orton Gillingham training(1-2 years) and other in depth advanced teaching methods. Seems more valuable than paying for graduate school for people who already make 6 figures and are not the answer. Administration can not fix DeKalb.

    You can’t be a top rated school unless you lift from the bottom. I keep watching the scores of Elementary schools in the Lakeside cluster at greatschools.org tick down in a slow slide.
    This is how the outside world judges DeKalb schools……by the numbers. Except Oak Grove, all other ES schools are 6 or less now at http://www.greatschools.org. Briarlake is now a 6 and Evansdale just dropped to a 5! Both are former Schools of Excellence that once were sought after for their academic performance. While I know these schools have a majority of successful kids, they are clearly failing a large population within the school. I think this is a systemic issue. There just does not seem to be any flexibility or funding to identify and make a plan for kids in need.

    As the failing kids trickle upwards into middle and high the problem is harder to fix.

    No great vision needed or expensive strategic plan is needed. Just a few simple steps. My master plan for the county would not cost anything to develop and market and would just be called “Lift From The Bottom”. Focus on individualized education plans and invigorate this process, higher staffing in the classroom, bring in more ESOL specialists at schools with the need while keeping in mind shifting demographics & serious in depth teacher training that enhances teaching to learning disabilities and ESOL. No weekend training or wasted motivational speakers. Real in depth training.

    Where to get the money has been well covered.

    A little off topic….but with the money flowing again, a plan for academic success at the student level is needed. The slow slide has to stop.

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