On Tuesday (5/3/16) the Chair of the DeKalb Board of Education, Melvin Johnson, was interviewed for “Closer Look” on WABE, 90.1.
Click here to read the transcript or listen to the interview.
The interview was striking because of the blatantly false statements made by the Chair of the Board or Education and his refusal to understand the basics of school finance, how a TAD works, and the financial realities of the project.
Early in the interview, Dr. Johnson said, “all funds generated by tax dollars should go to student learning.” He went on to say, “We are judged by how we manage our funds. We are judged by the product and student outcomes.” That sounds wonderful, right?
Sadly, DeKalb Schools does not even comply with state law requiring 65% of total operating expenditures be spent on “direct classroom expenditures”. And, our weak state Department of Education hands out waivers like candy. The state legislature should really do something about that. But, I digress.
For Chairman Johnson to say “all funds…should go to student learning” is duplicitous given the fact that such a low percentage of taxpayer dollars actually make it into the classroom. Furthermore, Dr. Johnson hasn’t exactly been a faithful advocate for improving the percentage of your taxes actually going into the classroom. Nope, he and the majority, kept right on spending your money on bloating the bureaucracy. The district also has some interesting procurement habits but I’ll save that for another blog. And while they were spending all your money for the benefit of adults and not “for the children”, they accumulated a mountain of cash. As of the end of February 2016, DeKalb Schools has over $225 million in operating reserve cash. For the same period the capital fund reserve is over $260 million. With money like that, why aren’t your classrooms at half the size? Why aren’t teachers getting bigger raises? Why are your kids in trailers anywhere? Why do you have to buy toilet paper to send to your kid’s school?
If they aren’t going to spend it on the classroom, they could always give us a tax cut. DeKalb is one of only a handful of districts that can even tax over 20 mils. Right now, we’re paying 23.73 mils. Do you think that extra 3.73 mils is helping? If it was, wouldn’t we see fewer schools on the OSD list rather than the net +3 that were added as targets for state takeover? DeKalb has more schools on that list than any other district.
Dr. Johnson confidently told the interviewers, DeKalb has made improvements in graduation statistics. Yep. That’s right. It’s also right for every single district in the state. Why? Because last year, the state removed the graduation test requirement. Naturally, the graduation metrics increased throughout Georgia. This has nothing to do with improvements in education.
When asked by Rose Scott, “Do you feel like the board has really vetted the opportunities, talked to all the major players involved here?” Dr. Johnson replied, “…..We have met with Mr. Perry, the developer. We met with the Mayor and her staff of Doraville and many others discussing options and opportunities in this regard.” That is interesting because the developer nor the city has met with the Board of Education about this matter. In fact, the developer and city officials have been discouraged from even meeting with school board members individually. How can your elected officials be expected to make decisions without being fully informed of the facts?
Stunningly, Chairman Johnson stated the school board would be at a loss for a million dollars a month with the TAD. But, we know that the current taxes paid to the school district from the property is $936,000 annually. With a TAD, the school district would keep collecting every dime of taxes they currently receive.
Next, in addition to Dr. Johnson’s financial fabrications, he went straight to fear mongering. In a blatant attempt to manipulate public sentiment, and threaten teachers, he suggested there is some relationship between taxes “lost” at this site and the need to lay off teachers. That is absurd and shameful.
What is most troubling is that the school board and administration do not seem to understand that this isn’t a choice about (1) TAD versus (2) No TAD. The choice is between TAD or Tax Abatements (via a development authority deal). Keep in mind, the abatements are given by The Development Authority and not one elected official gets a vote. The choice is between a development that has the capital ability to fund the major public infrastructure improvements to develop a commercially rich tax base that helps fund all of DeKalb (TAD) – or – a development funded through tax abatements dropping in more apartments and less high value commercial real estate. The apartments will bring more students to the already overcrowded schools. And with the abatement strategy, they really won’t get one dime in taxes to help provide services for those students. The schools will get nothing except more potential expenses.
Is it too much to ask that our school district spend our tax dollars in the classroom and have a modicum of financial fluency?…