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Questions about superintendent's car and driver

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. -- A school district facing serious financial problems has purchased its superintendent a brand new vehicle, and there's also the DeKalb school employee who occasionally serves as Cheryl Atkinson's personal driver.

Dekalb County schools recently laid-off over 100 employees as the district wrestles with a budget shortfall that still stands at $24 million.

Dekalb school board member Paul Womack said buying the superintendent a new car was a good investment.

"While I appreciate people inquiring, it's much ado about nothing," said Womack.

11Alive began asking questions after calls from people concerned about the school district's budget situation.

Documents obtained by the group Dekalb School Watch show the district recently bought Atkinson a 2013 Ford Explorer. A district spokesperson says it's part of Atkinson's contract that she receives a car for business and personal use.

The head of the Georgia Federation of Teachers says a new car and employee to occasionally serve as driver sounds like unnecessary luxuries in serious financial times.

"If we could afford it, wonderful," said Verdaillia Turner. "We do feel a driver is more than luxurious. It's going overboard. We don't see that it's necessary.

According to Womack, Atkinson was initially given a 2006 Ford that was in need of repairs.
The school system traded that and two other vehicles for the 2013 Explorer. According to documents, the value of the three vehicles was $23,500, so after the trade in taxpayers forked out $8,963 for the Explorer.

The resource officer who occasionally serves as Atkinson's driver is a fulltime salaried employee who was hired to provide security at the district office. The district's spokesperson insists it does not cost taxpayers any extra when the officer travels with the superintendent.

"She doesn't use this guy very often," said Womack. "She has to go from meeting to meeting to meeting outside and if she doesn't know where she's going or how she's getting there, it's better to have someone driving her."

Taxpayers funded both a car and driver when Beverly Hall was superintendent of Atlanta city schools. According to the district, Hall's successor, Erroll Davis, has neither.

Gwinnett school superintendent Alvin Wilbanks drives his own personal car, but does get a $1,500 a month car allowance.

Efforts to reach Atkinson were unsuccessful.