By Gracie Bonds Staples
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Band students holding their instruments and parents carrying posters jammed the Fulton County school board’s first public hearing on the proposed 2011 budget.
As at previous meetings, parents turned out Thursday in big numbers hoping to persuade the board to reverse its decision to convert the district’s popular band and orchestra program into a fee-based, after-school program.
Joel Dallow held petitions he said had 8,500 signatures objecting to dismantling the program.
Jazz great Earl Klugh arrived after the public comment, but voiced his support of the parents’ effort.
“For me, so much of my early life was shaped in school and it included music of all types,” he said. “I’m a big advocate for music in school because it helps round out an individual.”
Robert Siegling wore a hat calling for a recall of six of the seven board members.
For the first time, some voiced their support for the board’s decision.
Barbara Thomas said she appreciated the tough position the board has been in and supported the move to revamp the program.
“I urge all parents in the community to look at the big picture and not a single issue, to offer informed suggestions and not unreasonable demands,” said Thomas, who no longer has children in the district.
Susan Dorenkamp, principal at Heards Ferry Elementary School, drew boos when she said, “I fully support the elementary band and orchestra program as an after-school program.”
The music cut was part of the board’s effort to eliminate a $120 million deficit. It also approved cutting 1,000 positions, including 500 teachers.
The system is proposing a 2011 budget that is about $43 million less than the 2010 current budget — $794 million compared to $837 million.
To plug the expected gap between revenue and expenditures, the board approved $58 million in cuts early in the year and is expected to vote on $30 million additional cuts Superintendent Cindy Loe recommended.
Those include cutting central office costs 10 percent, requiring all employees to take three furlough days and stopping door-to-door transportation for magnet school students.
Loe also recommended increasing the millage rate one mill, as parents and some district staff have advocated.
Barbara Brock, who said her tax bill was more than $7,000 a year, objected and asked the board to give special consideration to residents 65 and older. “The taxes are just killing us,” said Brock, 78. “Every millage increase cuts into what we have to live on.”
The board did not vote on the latest recommendations but is expected to adopt the proposed budget May 11 with final adoption scheduled for June 8.