Deficit Among Thurmond's New Challenges

Feb 11, 2013

 On Friday, the DeKalb County school board chose former Georgia labor commissioner Michael Thurmond to temporarily lead the district. One of Thurmond's initial challenges will be helping the board tackle what the district's Chief Financial Officer calls a “doom and gloom” budget in the upcoming fiscal year.

At a board meeting last week, CFO Michael Perrone said the school system’s overall economic picture is mixed. 

Credit Martha Dalton/WABE News

Perrone said the district could have a surplus at the end of this fiscal year.  However, that money would have to go toward paying down a much bigger deficit from last year.

In addition, Perrone said, there will be a reduction in state and local revenue and cost increases, resulting in a $24 million deficit. 

Over time, the district’s budget has dropped from $1 billion to $731 million. Perrone said that will make it tougher to shore up next year’s projected deficit.

“If you told me to cut $24 million 5 or 6 years ago, I could do it in about two minutes," Perrone said, "But after compounding cuts for 5 or 6 years, that $24 million is going to be very, very difficult.”

The district will receive less money from the state next year because a state waiver allowed officials to increase class size and let some teachers go. David Schutten, the president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators, said the move was counterproductive.

“What was really frustrating to me was they increased class size and cut teachers to save money, and now they’re going to lose $6 million because they did that,” Schutten said. 

The district was recently placed on probation by its accrediting agency for board governance issues, including fiscal mismanagement. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools said, among other things, the board consistently under-budgeted for major expenses.

The DeKalb board will face the state board of education later this month to demonstrate its progress.