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DeKalb Schools fire back at legislation cutting its funding by $56 million: 'Politics over pupils.'

State Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Dunwoody, proposed a bill today that is a prod at DeKalb Schools.

And not a friendly one.

To the dismay of many county elected officials, the DeKalb County School District has not agreed to financially assist the redevelopment of the former General Motors factory in Doraville, a project predicted to produce thousands of new jobs in the region,

Doraville and DeKalb County officials say approval by the city, county and the school district is vital to secure $247 million in infrastructure bonds. But the school district has thus far declined to commit.

As the AJC reported: The DeKalb school district, which would need to provide more than half of the project's public funding, also may be reluctant. DeKalb schools have never participated in tax allocation districts, which have been used for other developments in the metro area including Atlantic Station and the Beltline, though the latter has been at the center of a dispute because of missed payments to Atlanta Public Schools.

Pressure on the school district is coming from all directions.  In a meeting with DeKalb lawmakers a week ago, state economic development chief Chris Carr said, "We have an opportunity in our county to have the best site in metro Atlanta --- probably one of the best sites in the Southeast --- and we're on the verge of blowing it."

Now, Taylor is apparently adding to the pressure on the school district.

As the AJC's Mark Niesse reports:

A proposal to cut DeKalb County school system funding by about $56 million a year was introduced Thursday in the Georgia General Assembly. Rep. Tom Taylor said his legislation, House Bill 969, would reduce DeKalb school property tax revenue to the maximum allowed in most other county school systems in Georgia.

The legislation only applies to DeKalb, which has a tax rate for schools of 23.73 mills. The measure wouldn’t affect city school systems like Atlanta Public Schools, which charges a 21.64 mill property tax rate rate.

The bill’s language calls for the state to reduce its share of education funding by the amount a county school system exceeds a 20 mill tax rate. The legislation doesn’t reduce the property tax rate that DeKalb residents and businesses pay.

So, Taylor wants to cut $56 million from DeKalb schools without returning a single penny to DeKalb taxpayers? Clearly, this is a symbolic gesture designed to deliver a message to DeKalb Schools.

Taylor did not return my phone call Thursday afternoon asking for the rationale behind his bill, but DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green sent me this statement at 10:30 Thursday night:

The DeKalb County School District is at a critical juncture in recovery.  We are rebuilding our financial foundation to serve 102,000 students.  We need the resources to address classroom needs, teacher pay, and support services.  The Board of Education is working in collaboration with the Superintendent with a primary focus on the needs of  students and teachers.

We have been able to give all teachers significant pay raises for the first time in several years; other non-certified staff need salary adjustments. In other words, we are on the road to recovery and reclaiming our rightful place as an exemplar school system including earning full accreditation on Jan. 28, 2016.

To remove critical resources at this juncture would be disruptive and detrimental to the health and well-being of the District and its efforts to improve teaching and learning.

Here is what $56 million means to DeKalb County:

  • Three pay raises for all teachers (They are now on par with other school systems in the metro area.), or
  • Three new 900-student school houses like the ones at Peachcrest ES and Fernbank ES (Our average age for school buildings is more than 20 years.), or
  • 712 new school buses (Our average fleet age is more than 10 years.)

If you support paying less for teachers, not improving the quality of our schools, or don’t care for the safe transportation of our of our 102,000 students then the proposal to reduce the tax rate is a good idea.  This legislation is a threat to the financial stability of the system and a threat to our students well-being in the classroom  Let’s not put politics over pupils.”

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Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.