By Maggie Lee

The DeKalb County Board of Education is set to vote on a budget that increases spending in the coming fiscal year and ends teacher furloughs, balancing it all on an upward revision of schools’ estimated cash in the bank.

“Though our expenditures will exceed our expected revenue, the school district will use a fund balance generated this year to offset the difference,” schools Chief Financial Officer Marcus Turk said at an April 26 board meeting.

Turk said the district is considering a $1.25 billion budget for fiscal year 2011, which begins this July. That figure covers everything, from operations to debt service to athletics. In fiscal 2011, the comparable figure was $1.2 billion.

But when the 2011 budget year ends this June, it should finish with “a fund balance increase of an additional $40 million” over an original $16 million estimate, he said.

Those unforeseen millions come in part from property taxes. The 2011 budget was written assuming a 7 percent smaller property tax take for schools compared to 2010, due to declining house prices. But now, it looks like school tax revenue will shrink by 3.5 percent. Also, the state did not cut school funding as much as the budget-writers expected.

The spending rise of $42 million will go toward fully funding pre-kindergarten classes, paying AP exam fees, salaries for crossing guard, band equipment and more. Chamblee High School is in the front of the line for new band uniforms; Dunwoody is in the next tier, if money is available.

But most of it — $30 million – will be spent to end teacher furloughs.

The budget also includes $110,000 to pay the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for its investigation of DeKalb schools and guidance toward safe accreditation. And then there’s a separate line for legal bills of $2.5 million.

David Schutten, representing the Organization of DeKalb Educators urged the board to support the draft budget, especially because the furloughs will be eliminated. But he also urged the board to come up with a plan for closed-down schools, perhaps selling them for money or turning them into charter schools.

Keely Sime came to the board to press for funds to fix Dunwoody’s Austin Elementary.

“We have students sitting at tables so crammed that they can’t pull up their chairs up to the table,” she said.

She added that Austin scored a 32 of 100 on a recent report that measured fitness of school buildings. “If my child ever came home from school having earned a 32, it would be unacceptable,” she said.

Austin’s architecture includes oversized rooms meant to hold several classes and several teachers at once. Sime’s not impressed with the old-fashioned design: “Some classrooms lack four walls and many have no doors.”

Core school operations, like paying teachers and buying supplies, are about 55 percent funded by property taxes. Turk emphasized that the education property tax rate has not been changed since 2003, but he also pointed out that Georgia does not send local systems the full amount they should receive under state funding formulas.

Public comments can still be directed to the BOE via www.dekalb.k12.ga.us. A full board vote is expected on May 9.