$50 Million More For DeKalb Teachers?

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.

Update – 03/05/2015
Here is the part of the Georgia Open Meetings Act germane to this discussion.
O.C.G.A. § 50-14-1 (e)(1) Prior to any meeting, the agency or committee holding such meeting shall make available an agenda of all matters expected to come before the agency or committee at such meeting … Failure to include on the agenda an item which becomes necessary to address during the course of a meeting shall not preclude considering and acting upon such item.
Notes: Every word in OCGA must be given meaning. That is to say, no words in this statute can be deemed superfluous. I draw your attention to the words “expected” and “necessary“.
If we were to leave out the word “expected”, this statute would have a different meaning.
While the urgency of the word “necessary” is vague, note the counselor used the word “emergency” when she described the statute. Replacing the word “necessary” with the word “emergency” changes the meaning of the statute.

3 responses to “$50 Million More For DeKalb Teachers?

  1. No offense to my friends of the Bar, but this appears to be another example of lawyers getting in the way of an elected body trying to do what is right for our kids and the taxpayers.

  2. I would leave the famous quote about lawyers from the Bard here, but I’m afraid it would taken out of context and the police would arrive at my door. Lawyers are such a killjoy (I say this as one who is married to a lawyer and sibling to two others). What a disappointment…again. Hoping this can be clarified at the next board meeting, but not holding my breath.

  3. Don McChesney

    Is it true that we built the surplus on the backs of our students, while still funneling money increases into the central office? That would really make our surplus imaginary. Are we still accounting our budget in cash or are we using accrual. It makes it a lot easier to move cash around to put under one hat and then placing it under another tomorrow. We were halfway into accrual accounting before I left the BOE.