“Classrooms First for Georgia” – Requires, at a minimum, 65% of a system’s total operating funds to be spent in the classroom. The statute was enacted in FY2008 and DeKalb Schools has never been in compliance.
Georgia law (O.C.G.A § 20-2-182) limits class size. For example, Kindergarten without a full time aide is limited to 18 students, grades 1-3 to 21, grades 4-5 to 28, and grades 6-8 to 28. However, the State Board of Education has the authority to waive these limits and has done so for DeKalb for many years.
Dr. Kaveous K. Preston is DeKalb Schools’ Director of Allotments Scheduling & Budgets, and Office of Federal Programs. In an earlier post, Dr. Preston explained How the District Funds the School House.
Today, Dr. Preston talks about DeKalb Schools Waivers.
Question: The 65% Rule waiver approved by the board in March 2015 was for the 2013-2014 school year. In June 2014, the board passed a Class Size Flexibility Resolution asking for class size waiver for the 2014-2015 school year. When can we expect these waivers to come before the board for the 2015-2016 school year?
Dr. Preston: [Class size waivers] is on the Board Agenda for September 14, 2015.
Question: Is it not true that the class size waiver for the 2015-2016 school year should have already been presented to the board and approved, as the budget is built on certain class size assumptions, and any deviation from state mandates on this issue must be approved in advance of the school year start date?
Dr. Preston: No, as the waiver being presented is the same as last year and the state requires it prior to the October FTE Count Day. The delay was caused due to the possibility of different district types (i.e. Charter, etc…) and how the class size waiver would be constructed.
Question: Asking for the “65% budget” waiver is a waiver done in arrears and, in theory, is meant to reflect that an unusual circumstance or factor made it difficult or impossible for the district to comply with this state mandate. Given that tax revenues are quite healthy and have increased significantly, I see a potential problem gaining state approval of a waiver of this rule for the 2015-2016 school year.What are the districts plans regarding compliance with the “65% rule” going forward into future school years?
Dr. Preston: The State Board of Education has adopted rules indicating that systems that have submitted a letter of intent to file a charter system application may be considered for continued class size flexibility from state law in the 2015-2016 school year.
Question: Dr. Michael Bell is the school district’s Chief Financial Officer. Dr. Bell, what contingency is planned if the state does not approve the “65% rule” waiver for the current school year?
Dr. Bell: As was noted above, the 65% waiver is requested and granted in arrears and is based on unusual circumstances or factors. The DCSD circumstance/factor was the drastic cuts made to class-room personnel/resources as a result of the Great Recession. Additionally if a school district improves by 2% (rounded per the State’s calculation) the request for the waiver is not necessary.
In the past three years the DCSD has budgeted $50 million +in areas that the expenditures of which will assist in getting to the 65% direct classroom expenditure level. The structure of the presently approved FY2016 Budget – if all budgeted funds are spent – would produce a 63.571% level. This would round to 64% and give the DCSD the 2% increment. Under GA law there are sanctions which can be applied by the State BoE such as requiring a local school system to “devise and implement a plan to meet the requirement” and the withholding of State funds under Rule 160-5-2-02.
The substantial changes we have made in our budgets over the last three years are moving us toward the 65%, but it will take time to finally get there.