County school board passes $94M budget for 2021

The DeKalb County Board of Education on Thursday held its final budget meeting and approved a $94M budget for the next fiscal year.

As part of the annual budgeting process, two public budget hearings are required each year.

Chief School Financial Officer Anthony Cooper presented the second budget hearing for FY2021 due in Montgomery by September 15, 2020.

“We are to the point where all the allocations from the federal, state and local levels are in. There will be a few more federal programs that will come in as we go through the year, and we will use the amendment process to take care of those at that time,” he said.

Cooper said the FY2021 budget would be approximately $94M with the following total revenues, $63M state revenue, $12.2M in federal, $17.7M in local revenue and other revenue right at $1M.

“Percentage breakdown revenue-wise the state revenue makes up 67% of our total budget, federal 13%, local 19% and other is right at 1%,” he said.

Among some of the “other” revenue, Cooper said it consists of teacher access to distance learning, food banks, mileage charges for travel on extracurricular trips and funds allocated for technology.

According to Cooper, the state has increased its Other Current Expenses (OCE) per unit, an area within the state revenue education trust fund budget.

“You get other current expenses based on each teacher unit you earn. This year, they increased that a little bit, so for this coming year, it's $19,808. What also helped in that increase is we earned six more teacher units this year,” he said.

Cooper said the DeKalb County School system has approximately 1,100 employees, 677 certified, and about 423 are support and classified.

Besides adding more teacher units to the county school system, the new additions help earn OCE money.

The following are some examples of the major categories and expenditures that OCE helps with: substitute paid, school secretaries, custodians, speech therapists, maintenance and central office staff. Cooper said along with those, it also aids in covering principal contract extensions.

“As far as bus drivers, mechanics and some of the other major employee departments that might come to your mind, they are covered by state transportation money. We have a state transportation fund, and it is totally separate from the state foundation program,” said Cooper.

Lunchroom workers also fall under a different program and are covered by CNP funds with the Child Nutrition Program.

Within the major “local” expenditures are building insurance, 20% towards internet services, travel, various supplements, such as coaching and band directors, some aids, maintenance department and supplies.

In the upcoming budget, Cooper said they are presenting the board with 13 school buses.

“Now somebody might say, ‘Why 13?’ Well, just to give you a quick history there. We get a fleet renewal for every bus that's 10 years or newer. We get 10% of what an average bus cost,” he said.

Cooper said the goal is for all buses to be 10 years or newer and then buy 10% of the fleet each year and it wouldn’t be any cost to the school locally.

In 1997-98 the state underwent an overhaul of how education funds were distributed and allocated. Cooper said they come up with the Accountability Act within the State Foundation Program, which included the main category of fleet renewal.

“We were on track to have 100%, 10 years or newer buses until the 2009 hit recession. They let us take that fleet renewal and spend it on general operations, which at that time we desperately needed,” said Cooper.

Since then, he said they have tried to buy at 10%, so in the future, if they want to get the perfect formula, it will match up.

“We have roughly 121 regular routes, so that’s going to be 12 buses a year to stay on target except for one year of 13. We don’t know what the future holds. There may be routes added or subtracted, but right now, this is the year we put 13 in there,” Cooper said.

In addition to the school buses, there have also been three drivers education vehicles added to the budget. Last year five drivers education vehicles were proved and purchased. However, there are eight drivers education departments within the county school system, and the remaining three cars will be bought in the upcoming fiscal year.

“Once we purchase these three drivers education vehicles, no drivers education vehicle should be older than one year old and I think that's a great thing,” said Cooper.

DeKalb County Superintendent Jason Barnett said the newest drivers education vehicles replaced was 17 years old and it was time to replace them.

He said the new vehicles were ordered in December or January but didn’t arrive until after schools were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, students are just now getting to utilize them.

“They are new, they are nice and safe and everybody appreciates those,” said Barnett.

Board members inquired about the maintenance department vehicles and their status.

Cooper said last fiscal year, several transportation and maintenance vehicles were purchased, and both departments seem to be in good shape.

Barnett said the decision to purchase those vehicles came after several events with their carrier van that made him realize it was dangerous, and they needed to have people in safe vehicles, same with the drivers education cars.

“It was time to make sure we had safe vehicles on the road,” he said.

Regarding the transportation and maintenance vehicles, Barnett said they got them at a reasonable price and were able to purchase one additional vehicle because of that.

“As far as vehicles go countywide, I think we are at a very good spot,” Cooper said.

Although Thursday's meeting was the final budget review, Cooper said for transparency, if anyone has any questions, they can be asked year-round, not just during this time.

“We are a public government entity, so you're more than welcome to call or write an email and ask any questions,” said Cooper.

The DeKalb County Board of Education approved the 2020-21 DeKalb County Schools Budget during Thursday night’s regular session.

– Editor’s note: Look for the second half of the DeKalb County Board of Education meeting in an upcoming edition of the Times-Journal.

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