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Board approves budget, tax hike

By Bob Paslay

The Clayton County School Board Tuesday unanimously approved a new operating budget that calls for a 1 mill tax increase and provides pay increases for teachers and other employees.

The $317,061,033 budget is 4.57 percent more than the current operating budget that ends June 30. Owners of a $100,000 house would pay an additional $30 in taxes while those with a $200,000 home would pay $70 more.

The approval came amid a stormy meeting that included picket signs, calls for recall of board members, boos and cheers, all directed at some board members and with little or nothing to do with the budget being discussed.

The meeting was the latest in an escalating battle between some residents and some board members that started with the ouster of Superintendent Dan Colwell in January.

Meanwhile, a press conference of three board members, Chairwoman Nedra Ware, Vice Chairwoman Connie Kitchens and Carol Kellam was held Tuesday morning to announce their plan to push for a vote on June 24 for a new superintendent and that their choice is deputy DeKalb County superintendent Lottie Edwards.

Several board members, Ericka Davis and Barbara Wells, informed of the meeting and statement after the board meeting said they will not support a superintendent selection until a national exhaustive search is conducted.

Edwards could not be reached for comment.

Budget starts July 1

The budget calls for $317,061,033 in spending, which is higher than the current budget of $303,193,858.

Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis said the property tax increase would generate $6.2 million of this increase. In addition, $2 million will come from more state revenue, $1 million from raising more money than anticipated this year in taxes and $16.2 million out of the district's fund balance and the rest from reassessment and growth of property.

The budget calls for about 175 new employees, including 131 new teaching positions. These jobs are needed to staff two new elementary schools and to comply with state mandated reduced class size in kindergarten through third grade.

The budget also calls for pay increases for teachers at least $850 and more if they have a step in the pay schedule coming. All other employees will get either a 1 or 2 percent cost of living increase.

The budget includes few new things but does allocate $1.3 million more for utility costs, $124,000 more in gasoline costs, and $150,000 for Internet access for teachers.

A separate capital projects budget includes $51 million in new projects. This comes from $45 million in the one-cent local option sales tax the district gets and $10 million in state funds. Some of the money will be held in reserve and not spent in the coming fiscal year.

Residents are riled up

About 100 residents showed up at the meeting to do verbal battle with Ware and her three board supporters in the wake of the district being put on probation by the international accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Ware and Kitchens released an eight-page letter they wrote to SACS pledging that corrective action will be taken to try to get the district off probation. The letter did not mention SACS' indication it was meddling in the day to day operation of the district by the two members that helped lead to the probation.

Ware in recent days has tried to oust interim superintendent Dr. William Chavis.

As the board members left the meeting room to go into executive session, a voice rang out from the audience: "Thank you Dr. Chavis." And the audience gave him a thunderous applause and a standing ovation. Chavis flashed a thumbs up to the audience.

Many in the audience were sporting "Resign or Recall" stickers and held up signs criticizing Ware and Kitchens.

Willie Foles, of Morrow, who has lived in the county 42 years, told the board, "You have squandered $300,000 to $400,000 since January. I make a motion you and Mrs. Kitchens step down."

Ware and Kitchens made no comments on the audience action. Ware did admonish the citizens at the beginning of the meeting that disrupting a meeting could be a misdemeanor charge.

Earlier in the day during their press, Ware, Kitchens and Kellam said 12 candidates from five states submitted applications for superintendent.

"All twelve candidates were screened in a very thorough manner," they said during the press conference.

"It is my hope that on June 24th the Clayton County Public Schools will name Dr. Lonnie Edwards as the new superintendent."

Critics have charged that the entire search process was a smoke-screen to hire Edwards.

Davis said she and the other board members have never been given the entire list of applicants, have not interviewed or done any screening of them. She said she will not vote on anyone at the June 24th meeting.

Davis said the NAACP wants to hold a forum in the coming weeks to discuss the SACS report and the operation of the school system.

Wells said until a national search that is open to public scrutiny is conducted for a new superintendent she will not vote for anyone.