Willoughby Renews Request for Authorization to Seek Land for New High School

May 19, 2008
Dwayne Page

Director of Schools Mark Willoughby, on behalf of the DeKalb County Board of Education, Monday night renewed a request for authorization from the county commission to seek land for the possible future home of a new high school.

Director Willoughby and Board Chairman W.J. (Dub) Evins III made the initial request last month and were told by County Mayor Mike Foster that the issue would first have to be addressed by the budget committee of the county commission.

Willoughby, during Monday night's meeting, raised the issue again. " The school board has authorized me to ask the county commission to give me authorization to seek and negotiate a tract of land for future growth, and this is only for land, to bring back to the county commission and to seek your recommendation and approval on it."

The county commission took no vote on Willoughby's request but County Mayor Foster told Willoughby that the school board could seek land and then make a proposal to the budget committee which would still have to consider it. " I've talked with a few of the (county) commissioners here tonight and we understand the importance of confidentiality when you're looking at this land. I think all of them pretty well agree that it should be your job to do it (seek land) in a confidential manner and look at it and bring back your proposal to the budget committee and present it to them and let them recommend to the full commission at that time. We're a long way from approving budgets and we've got to find revenue sources and those kinds of things. I think that will give us a couple of months to do our business and you can do your due diligence that way."

The board would like at least 60 acres and possibly more for future construction of a new high school, but the county commission must first grant approval of such a purchase and authorize the funding.

The school board is currently evaluating at least three sites as possible suitable locations. Purchasing land would be the first phase in an overall building plan which includes construction of a new high school for grades 9 to 12, renovating the existing high school making it into the new location for DeKalb Middle school for grades 5-8, making renovations and additions to DeKalb West School, making Northside Elementary a school for grades 2 to 4, and making Smithville Elementary a school for Pre-K and first grade. The total project cost is between $34-million and $40-million dollars, not counting the land purchase.

Meanwhile, the DeKalb County Board of Education, last Thursday night, presented the proposed tentative 2008-09 school budget to the budget committee of the county commission during an informal meeting held at the courthouse.

Other county department heads also made budget requests during the meeting.

The school board met in special session last Wednesday afternoon to adopt the proposed tentative budget.

Total expenditures projected for 2008-09 are $17,949,306. Total projected revenues are $16,979,885, a shortfall of $969,421.

In order to balance the proposed budget, the school board proposes an appropriation of $412,921 from the school fund balance and $556,500 from Basic Education Program reserves. The local property tax rate for schools would remain the same at 57 cents per $100 of assessed value under this plan.

The proposed school budget includes funding in the regular instruction program for three new teaching positions in the system as needed based on student enrollment, along with a new gifted teacher position in the special education program, a new position in the vocational education program, an additional school nurse along with a new part-time clerical position to support the school coordinated health program, and a new clerical position for the guidance department of DeKalb County High School.

A one time bonus of $200 per certified employee is included in the proposed budget and support staff would get a 2% pay raise along with any step increases as per the school system's salary scale. The budget also reflects increases in teacher salaries by degree advancement and years of experience.

The budget also includes projected increases due to inflation, including a 10% increase for health insurance, a 10% increase for electricity, plus increases for supplies and materials, textbooks and fuel.

For example, in the line item for fuel, the school board budgeted $147,000 for diesel this fiscal year, 2007-08 and has already spent $141,500, with two more deliveries of diesel fuel expected before the end of the fiscal year June 30th. The school board has budgeted $350,000 for diesel fuel in the proposed 2008-09 budget. A total of $13,000 was budgeted this year for gasoline, but next year, the board has increased it to $19,000.

School officials say the proposed spending plan is still very tentative because the state has not yet provided hard numbers on how much the system can expect to receive in state funding.

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