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DeKalb School Board approves legislative priorities, new calendar and teacher bonuses

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DeKalb School Board approves legislative priorities, new calendar and teacher bonuses

DeKalb County School District Administration and Instructional Complex on Mountain Industrial Boulevard in Stone Mountain. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated. 

DeKalb County, GA — The DeKalb County School Board met on Jan. 8 and approved the list of the top six legislative priorities for 2024. 

The board also approved bonuses for teachers and other staff, as well as a new school calendar that includes more breaks during the school year.

This is a standard beginning-of-the-year item for the school board, where the district comes up with a short list of recommended items that are then submitted to the DeKalb County legislative delegation for the delegation to support in the Georgia General Assembly.

The goal is to “ensure that no legislation is introduced that would impede the Board’s ability to govern the school system.” 

The top six items are: 

1. Updating the way the QBE Formula is calculated.

2. Reducing barriers for teachers who have retired and wish to return to work.

3. Granting “school district representation on any development authorities which have the power to grant abatements or other diversions from school districts of school taxes”

4. Allow Public School Employee Retirement System (PSERS) employees to participate in the Teachers Retirement System (TRS)

5. Creating a process for the school district to expedite the permitting process for infrastructure improvements in the case of unresponsive municipalities

6. An increase in board member yearly pay from $18,000 + $450 per monthly meeting to $30,000 + $450 per monthly meeting.

The exact language describing the priorities can be found here. 

The QBE or “Quality Basic Education Formula” is the formula used to calculate the amount of state funds a school district is allotted. Currently, the student services the district provides are divided into 19 programs and each program is given a “weight.” Currently, despite student programs such as English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and students with disabilities being highlighted as in need of specified funding, economically disadvantaged students are not one of the 19 student programs recognized. 

The district is recommending that the formula be amended to “modernize funding for transportation” and “fully funded…students identified as Economically Disadvantaged”. 

Also outlined in the list of priorities is a potential process by which infrastructure improvements could be expedited. If these time frames are not met then the plans would automatically be approved.

Board Member Whitney McGinniss raised concerns about the lack of precedent for a no-response leading to an automatic approval, though most of the rest of the board was supportive.

The district is also asking for a more “sustainable” retirement plan for PSERS-eligible employees. This is the retirement program for “school district bus drivers, and custodial, maintenance, and food service personnel.” In their outlining of priorities, the district said  “The fact that there is such a large disparity between the [TRS] and [PSERS] gives the appearance that there are two classes of employees…” and asked for the delegation to support “the law [being] amended to allow employees under PSERS to participate in TRS.” 

Board Member Dr. Joyce Morely talked at length about how Mental Health was removed from the priority list, stating it was a personal conspiracy against her. 

Board Member Allyson Gevertz didn’t think so, describing the narrowing down process as merely a specific kind of prioritization.

We’ve even been told by some legislators that they’d just like our top three,” Gevertz said. 

Speaking with Superintendent Dr. Devon Horton after the meeting, he emphasized the specific goal being aimed at with these priorities, outlining the process by which the list had been narrowed down.  

“This process started with an inquiry of staff, asking them to present things that were hindering them from doing the work they need to be doing…they came back with a list of 22 items, which was narrowed down to 6 by Dentons (a lobbying firm contracted by the district),” Horton said.

Horton talked about how the goal was to find the right mix of unique priorities that are also likely to get support from other districts. 

With spirited discussion, these priorities were approved by the board and will be submitted to the DeKalb County legislative delegation.

In other news:

— The Board approved $13.5 million for staff retention bonuses.

The following bonuses were approved:

– A $1,000 bonus for all active, full-time benefits-eligible staff employed as of Jan. 17th with a $1,000 bonus. This will be given to 12,715 employees.

– A $500 bonus for all active, part-time employees who are employed as of Jan. 17. This will be given to 501 employees.

– A $500 bonus to all active substitute teachers who have worked at least 250 hours during the fall 2023 semester and who are employed as of Jan. 17. This will be given to 650 employees.

The initial impetus for the bonus was a $1,000 staff retention bonus from the governor’s office. For DeKalb County School District this ended up being a $9,930,774 allotment (which was based on the QBE formula) which would not have been enough to cover all staff. The total estimated cost for the above recommendation is $13.5 million and the gap will be bridged by, “$246,518 from additional funds received through the Pre-K program to fund this initiative, and roughly $3.3 million from ESSER III (currently budgeted)”

— The board re-elected Board Chair Diijon DaCosta Sr. and Vice Chair Deirdre Pierce for 2024. Both were the only ones nominated and received mostly glowing praise from their colleagues. Anna Hill was also re-elected to the ethics committee

— The board approved $9 million in contracts for speech therapy services.

— Approved school calendars for 2024 through 2026. The calendar will include a fall break in October, a winter break in February, and a spring break in April. To see the 2024-2025 calendar, click here. To see the 2025-2026 calendar, click here.

— Accepted a donation from the Affordable Connectivity Program for $16.7 million worth of tablets

— Renewed the charter of DeKalb Preparatory Academy for three years with stipulations. The charter school was placed on probation due to, among other things, “persistent instability in leadership leading to unsatisfactory academic preparedness”.  DeKalb Preparatory Academy had to provide an action plan within 30 days of the Charter renewal 

— Renewed the charter of the International Community School renewed for 5 years with an increase of maximum enrollment of 475 to 550 

— Approved a $2.5 million contract to PlayPower Inc. for playground equipment repairs, replacements, and installation services.

— Approved a $2 million in contracts for electrical contractor services. The companies getting the contracts are Capital City Electrical Services, Mr. Dee’s Electric Service LLS and MWI Electrical.

— Approved a budget amendment to cover an additional $2 million to KONE, Inc. Elevator Services for elevator maintenance services

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