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DeKalb school district outlines goals for next year’s legislative session, seeks full funding of QBE

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DeKalb school district outlines goals for next year’s legislative session, seeks full funding of QBE

Board of Education chair Diijon DaCosta, left, and Superintendent Dr. Devon Horton, right. Photo by Sara Amis

DeKalb County, GA — The DeKalb County School District held its annual legislative priorities luncheon Oct. 27 to discuss legislative goals in 2024, goals that include fully funding Quality Basic Education.

Attendees included most of the Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. Devon Horton, and a number of DCSD staff, along with members of the DeKalb delegation.

Horton began by talking about the district’s overall goals, including recruiting and retaining staff amid a national teacher shortage and improving instruction for students who are still feeling the after-effects of the pandemic, among other stresses.

The district is asking delegates to help make sure that Quality Basic Education [QBE], the state’s mechanism for funding public schools state-wide, is fully funded in the 2024 legislative session. 

DCSD would also like to see some changes to the formula that funding for individual school districts is based upon, including adding poverty as a metric. DCSD’s chief financial officer Byron Schueneman told the group that students in high-poverty areas are more expensive to educate.

“If there’s one weakness that’s going to rise to the top…it’s that the QBE formula doesn’t give any kind of recognition to school districts that have a higher rate of poverty,” Schueneman said.

Horton said later that students in high-poverty areas tend to require more wrap-around services, including everything from psychological counseling to food, and often require more learning support as well. Those students benefit from extra literacy and numeracy support.

House District 87 Rep. Viola Davis said that a bill has already been drafted for the next legislative session. HB 2 includes support for students living in poverty and will also include a fiscal note estimating the cost.

State law already allows teachers to come out of retirement to teach without affecting their retirement benefits. Currently, they must have been retired at least one year and must be teaching in a high needs area. DCSD would like for the state to allow teachers to return sooner, preferably after 30 days, and to expand “high needs” to include all content areas.

The district would also like for the state to bring the retirement program for non-teacher staff more in line with the teacher’s retirement program, or allow them to participate in the Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS).

DaCosta said that the district has created a match program to increase non-teacher staff retirement, but it’s not enough.

Schueneman said that university system custodians and other staff are allowed to participate in TRS, but public school custodians and bus drivers are not. He said this creates a two-tier system and makes it harder for public school districts to recruit staff who could get better benefits elsewhere.

The district is also asking for a raise in Board of Education member pay from the current rate of $18,000 annually plus $450 per diem per meeting.

DaCosta said that is well below the salary of comparable school districts and county officials, and that they want to make sure that serving is attractive to future potential board members.

HD 85 Rep. Karla Drenner asked for specific numbers, and DaCosta said that they are in the process of researching comparable districts.

Other things on the district’s list: 

— Making sure that school district’s have representation on any development authorities that have the power to grant abatements or other diversions of school taxes, and standing to object to any proposed abatements.

— Requiring expedited permitting for school district capital improvement projects. Chief of operations Erick Hofstetter said that along with supply chain and staffing problems, the district has also encountered delays in permitting for projects. Hofstetter said that delays cost the district money and postpone availability of needed classroom space.

— Data privacy and security, including establishing regulations to protect student data and regulating use of AI to prevent data mining, surveillance, or profiling of students while allowing districts to find ways to use AI to benefit students.

–Supplying schools with emergency medication such as epi pens, Narcan, and Albuterol so that students or staff can be treated immediately while waiting on emergency medical services.

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