Fernbank Science Center in Jeopardy of Closing

A DeKalb School board committee suggested pulling funding for the science center in an effort to close a $73 million budget gap.

in Druid Hills is in jeopardy of losing funding from the DeKalb County School System.

DeKalb school board members are working to plug a $73 million gap in the system’s budget, and a committee recommended Thursday an additional $17.5 million in cuts that includes closing the science center.

These recommendations came after a budget was tentatively approved on Tuesday that includes $44.5 million in cuts and layoffs but relied on a tax increase some board members oppose.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution polled eight of the nine board members about the 2-mill tax increase.

Tom Bowen, Nancy Jester, Don McChesney, Pam Speaks and Paul Womack oppose the tax increase. Eugene Walker, Jesse “Jay” Cunningham and Donna Edler are in support. Sarah Copelin-Wood could not be reached for comment

Fernbank Science Center

The district spends about $4.7 million to operate the Fernbank Science Center and pay 56 full-time employees.

The center, which includes a museum and planetarium, offers hands-on education about animals and planets to about 160,000 school children and visitors each year.

School board Chairman Eugene Walker told the AJC he opposes closing the center.

“It’s a great educational opportunity for students that are interested in science,” he said.

A public hearing to talk about the additional cuts proposed by the budget commitee is scheduled for Wednesday, May 30, at 6 p.m. at district headquarters, 1701 Mountain Industrial Blvd. in Stone Mountain.

What’s your take — should the district consider closing the center to save money? Tell us in the comments!

Jim Kinney June 17, 2012 at 08:57 PM
If I understand your view correctly, we should be firing people who make more than $X (because they've been there a long time - most over 20 years). Let's start at the top of the payroll and go down to what level? I am appalled at the number of people who see everything so short-sighted that they are willing to throw out the only science process we currently have in DCSS. Why don't we do a better job with what we have? Really lousy leadership for 20+ years has rendered the school system ineffective at many things. Given the need for trained scientists and engineers and the economic realities that students who go that route will be more likely to be employed than those that chase professional athletics, maybe we should use data like that as driving points for making payroll cut choices. $5M currently buys us a building full of PhDs in science (not education majors but real, went to school and majored in science and got PhDs in fields such as Botany, Astrophysics, Chemistry, and Geology) and all the support staff to generate a process that is underutilized by the school system. The number of DCSS students entering Fernbank has steadily dropped as the board cut funding for sending students there. So it's no wonder such a large group of people don't "get it" when people like me say that closing Fernbank is a truly horrible idea. There's been an undercurrent of people working to sabotage Fernbank for nearly 2 decades. I can only speculate as to why. Maybe they hate science.
Jim Kinney June 17, 2012 at 09:06 PM
For those who think science education in DCSS is benefited by Fernbank Science Center, there is a rally planned for Monday, June 18, 2012 at 10 am at Fernbank Science Center in support of keeping it open. The board is scheduled to meet Wednesday to finalize this upcoming disaster budget and Fernbank is back on the cut list.
FSC June 19, 2012 at 04:29 PM
You keep trotting out these same stats...what you don't get is that these exhibit designers...of which there are now only 3, work for the entire county, designing exhibits, artwork, and planetarium shows. Their exhibits go out into every school into the entire county and sometimes it is the only time a child will ever get to see a real taxidermied specimen in their lifetime. The "cabinet maker" is the person that builds every single thing here a FSC, from exhibits to things that instructors dream up to teach their classes with. Yes, the forest is gone, but we are now doing the REACH program, which we have partnered with the DeKalb Parks and Recreation department and will be teaching children in the parks that are closest to their home schools (thereby reducing transportation costs) and getting them out into nature...again, often the only time there are ever out experience these kinds of things with a real scientists. Your 28 administrative and support personnel figure is also incorrect. There are 2 secretaries, and one bookkeeper. There is a Director and an Asst Administrator. We are a 6 day a week operation so one of the administrators has to be here every single day as well as security.
FSC June 19, 2012 at 04:35 PM
This is the rest of the previous post...didn't have enough room. We are open on Thursdays and Friday nights until 10 so that people can come to planetarium shows and to the observatory...again, the largest public observatory in the southeast. We have 3 security guards that rotate. We have 4 people on our custodial staff that split the six day a week shifts so that there are always two of them here. We do also have someone that works at the front desk that answers the phone and gives people directions and sells planetarium tickets. I don't think I missed anyone. All of these people are vital to the success of FSC. My count is 13. SEMAA is not yet a done deal. There are still negotiations going on. What most people don't know is that FSC wrote that curriculum for NASA. I and another instructor here wrote the 3rd and 5th grade units. FSC has the ability to generate money for the school system if they would just give us the chance to do it. We have not had this chance as we have been hamstrung and unable to grantwrite or form a foundation in the past. And as for being a moldy building? Please come visit and point out this mold to me...I will gladly clean it myself. Also, no one remembers that these people work 12 months a year so you can't compare them to teachers salaries...that's comparing apples to oranges!!
FSC June 19, 2012 at 04:43 PM
Thank you so much Noreen!!


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