Atlanta Public School Budget Commission meeting set for Thursday – maximum class size waivers likely on the agenda

April 16, 2014

The Atlanta Public Schools announced that a Budget Committee meeting will be held this coming Thursday, April 17th at 3:30 p.m. While a specific agenda was not released, it is likely that the Budget Commission will ask for additional overall expenditure reductions, reallocations of expenditures from administrative functions to the classroom and then also assess the cost impact of changing the maximum class size waiver resolution which was tabled during the Board meeting on Monday.

The maximum class size waiver resolution was discussed during Monday’s Board meeting, but then it was determined that the class size waiver resolution had to be completed in the context of the FY15 budget discussion and, consistent with prior years, the analysis and recommendations will be established at the Budget Commission level.

I think it is important at this point to bring in the new superintendent’s views on the issue. In the community forum this past Sunday, Dr. Carstarphen specifically addressed class sizes and said [emphasis added],

Class size is not a “one size fits all” – that I have learned. You can do really big classes in some areas, but it depends on the experience and the comfort level of the teacher. Good principals know that they can staff a classroom based on the talent of the teacher…. It is the strength and the knowledge of the principal that can help think through the size of a class based on grade level, student need and content area.

Per pupil spending here is a nice size, but we will have to decide where we want to spend the money. You can put it into class size, you can put it into early childhood education, or anywhere you want to. What I will try to do is lay out for you what are the best practices

In Austin we tried to push as much money into schools as possible… [establish] what is it that you are trying to support and then cut out anything else… if class size is the choice, then it is the choice, but it is pretty cost prohibitive and there is not a lot of evidence that it is the solid choice in that – if you do this, then X happens. It is a really mixed bag.  

The following is some background on the statutory requirements in GA. Per the GA DOE, the maximum class sizes are (see more detail at the GA DOE here):

  • Kindergarten with a teacher and a paraprofessional – 20
  • Grades 1-3  – 21
  • Grades 4-5  – 28 – English, Math, Science, Social Studies
  • Grades 6-8  – 28 – English, Math, Science, Social Studies
  • Grades 9-12 – 32 – English, Math, Science, Social Studies & Foreign Language

The current class size waiver under consideration is for up to +5 in grades K-8 and up to plus +3 in grades 9-12 over the established state class size maximums. Additionally, last year it was determined that the cost of not passing the waiver was approximately $24 million – I expect that the cost this year will be similar in size. However, the cost can be broken down into much smaller pieces for specific grade levels.

The information provided last year by the administration was often confusing and the information was not easily digested by either Board members or parents. In light of that, it is important to understand several items that influence the average class size calculations, as follows:

  • The only teachers that are considered in this calculation are the 1,484 teachers budgeted in account 1200-Direct Instruction and the 191 teachers budgeted in account 1202-Kindergarten. The remaining approximately 1,431 teachers – who are in special disciplines like Fine Arts, Athletics, Early Intervention Program, Gifted Program, Exceptional Children’s Program and Vocational Programs – are not included in the determination of average class size in the subjects noted above.
  • There are a number of teachers that are budgeted in the Special Revenue Fund that are excluded from the calculation as well. How many? We do not know as the administration has never released this information. Unfortunately, withholding this critical information began last year and the administration has followed the precedent this year. However, the SRF teachers tend to be “specialty teachers” and would not likely come into play in the very specific class size determination established by the GA DOE.
  • The class size waivers are ultimately used to establish preliminary teacher allocations for budgeting purposes. The allocations are reviewed by principals and adjusted accordingly. However, the allocations still only represent a plan – the actual number of teachers that a school will have is not finally determined until the leveling process occurs after school year starts. The administration contends that this past year, the leveling process resulted in more teachers being added than originally budgeted to ensure that no class in the district exceeded the maximum size allowed after taking into consideration the waiver.

Additionally, my sense is that the Budget Commission would be assisted in their deliberations if the cost of eliminating the class size waivers is broken down into the following components:

  • Kindergarten – there is a unique interplay between teachers and paraprofessionals in the formula – it is best to segregate this discussion from the other grades.
  • Elementary School – as the statutory maximum class sizes are different for elementary school grade levels, this group has to be broken down into grades 1-3 and grades 4-5 with the specific number of teachers currently budgeted and additional ones needed to lower the class size waiver. This would then allow the Commission, if it so desires, to potentially target specific grades for reducing class sizes.
  • Middle School – this assessment becomes more difficult as the students begin moving from class to class for different subjects and see a number of different teachers throughout the day. While the assessment gets more complicated than the lower grades, simply having the cost and number of teachers that are required to reduce the class size waiver would be very helpful.
  • High School – the current class size waiver is for a +3 and the analysis should be consistent with the Middle School analysis. Last year the waiver size of +3 was not controversial nd it will likely be adopted as is. However, the numbers have to be shown separately or it becomes impossible to establish the actual data for the other school levels.

This is always a “hot button issue” with parents and they coalesced around this issue last year. As a result, the issue led to extended discussions and, ultimately there was some change in the teacher staffing levels, however the changes were insufficient to reduce the requested waiver by even one. Also, the class waiver issue appears to be more of an issue in many of the overcrowded schools and less so in the underutilized schools.

Last year’s class size waiver discussion resulted in lengthy delays in finalizing the FY14 budget and three Board members voted against the final budget as they were not satisfied with the class size waiver resolution – only one of the three has returned with the new Board. However, nearly all the candidates discussed a desire to lower the class sizes in APS. It was clear from some comments made by Board members at the monthly meeting, that this was still front and center in their minds.

In addition, the class size waiver represents a very powerful leverage point that the Board can use to push for a reallocation of resources out of administrative functions and into the classroom. As discussed in prior posts, the current administration is not open to making any such adjustments. However, the Board can force the issue by placing a cap on spending and then lowering the class size waiver request. If this happens, then the administration is essentially forced to get the funding necessary from the administrative functions. However, do not put it past the administration to propose getting the funding from the teacher raise that is under consideration or from other departments that are still under the instruction umbrella.

Taking action now on reducing the class size waiver is potentially fraught with problems as the current administration is not inclined to do so and has dug in its heels on spending reallocations. Again, I would suggest that the current budget – including the current class size waiver – be passed with an amendment that would place a moratorium on $15-25 million in spending that could not be committed to or spent prior to the approval of the new superintendent after her start date of July 7th. The Board and the new superintendent are planning a series of work sessions in the near future and this – along with many other budget priorities – can be worked out between them. The moratorium on spending will then give them the flexibility to modify spending in the manner that they jointly decide is appropriate.

We will see what happens, but let’s hope that the process is not too drawn out and that the Board will look to the Dr. Carstarphen’s far more nuanced and informed views on this issue as a guide toward reaching a resolution in the near term.

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Round up of news on appointment of Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen as the Atlanta Public School Superintendent

April 15, 2014

In a unanimous vote, the Atlanta Public School Board of Education appointed Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen as the next superintendent. She was given a three-year contract with an annual salary of $375,000 and she will officially begin on July 7th.

The Board conducted the election in a way that showed their unity in the selection. Each Board member read several sentences from the formal resolution and then during the roll call vote, each stood to declare their affirmative vote. It was clear that the Board was proud of the extensive search process they had conducted and very pleased with the selection of Dr. Carstarphen. The community in attendance at the meeting also voiced their strong support for our new superintendent.

There are lots of stories on the selection – the following is a round-up with the key quotes,


Dr. Carstarphen brings nearly 20 years of education and experience in diverse, urban public school districts including Austin, Texas, Saint Paul, Minn. and the District of Columbia.

She comes to Atlanta with an impressive record in transformative educational leadership that has led to significant student performance gains.

“Today marks a critical step toward achieving educational excellence for our students. This is an important moment for our children, communities and our city,” said Courtney D. English, Atlanta Board of Education chair. “Given her focus on the development of the whole child, and using a collaborative approach to see that students achieve, I have the utmost confidence in Dr. Carstarphen’s leadership. She is the right leader at the right time for our system who will deliver the best education possible to our students. It’s time for Atlanta to believe again.”

“Over the past two weeks, I have met with students, parents, educators and other local leaders and residents from across Atlanta who have shared with me their hopes and dreams for Atlanta Public Schools. I look forward to working with the Atlanta community to ensure that every child has access to a quality education so that they have quality choices in life,” said Dr. Carstarphen. “I’m honored and humbled by Atlanta’s belief and confidence in me as we work together to restore pride in Atlanta Public Schools.”

Local and national leaders have expressed their support and endorsement of Dr. Carstarphen as a highly qualified and passionate leader who can restore the public’s trust and drive a successful future for Atlanta’s children. These leaders include former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, Great City Schools Executive Director Michael Casserly, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and City Council President Ceasar C. Mitchell.

As superintendent of Austin Independent School District since 2009, Dr. Carstarphen has made extraordinary achievements in academic excellence. They include: • Improved graduation rates to an all-time high of 82.5 percent and reduced longitudinal dropout rate by 25 percent • Increased the African American graduation rate to 79.6 percent, specifically African American males to 76.2 percent • Increased overall SAT and ACT exam scores • Increased college application rates to an all-time high of 92 percent • Improved attendance rates at all levels to 95 percent.

Dr. Meria Joel Carstarphen earned a doctorate in administration, planning and social policy with a concentration in urban superintendency from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She earned a bachelor of arts in political science and Spanish from Tulane University and master of education degrees from Auburn University and Harvard University. She has also studied at the University of Seville, Spain, and University of Innsbruck, Austria. A public school graduate, Dr. Carstarphen hails from Selma, Ala., where she began her teaching career.

Atlanta superintendent hired with unanimous vote – AJC

“It’s time to bring the pride back to this school system … to face head-on those tough challenges we know are in front of us,” Carstarphen said after the 9-0 vote to hire her.

She received a standing ovation from the audience after the vote.

Carstarphen said she’ll try to track down students who were affected by the school system’s cheating scandal — something that hasn’t been done so far. Instead, Atlanta Public Schools expanded tutoring and remediation opportunities for all students.

Atlanta hires leader for troubled school system – AJC [behind pay wall]

By hiring Meria Carstarphen as Atlanta’s superintendent Monday, school board members hope they’ve found a leader who can move past scandals and get back to the business of educating kids.

Standing one by one as they cast their votes, the Atlanta Board of Education voted 9-0 to hand control of the 50,000-student district to Carstarphen, who has led the 87,000-student public school system in Austin, Texas, for five years. An audience of parents, teachers and staff gave Carstarphen a standing ovation.

“This may be closer to an inferno. It’s blistering with heat, but none of those things bother me,” Carstarphen said. “We will have a very special moment to be able to do some great work in this city.”

Her $375,000 salary exceeds the $275,000-to-$325,000 range described in a position profile last summer, but it falls short of the $600,000 salary suggested by Mayor Kasim Reed. The mayor said in October he had raised money from the business community for the superintendent’s salary, but the city school board decided to pay Carstarphen entirely with taxpayer money.

The full text of her contract — including details about vacation time, sick days and other perks — wasn’t released Monday.

Carstarphen said she wants to raise the school system’s 59 percent graduation rate, improve lackluster academic results, expand early childhood education, grow advanced placement classes and create alternative pathways to graduation.

“I’m like everyone else — very excited about having someone here who actually knows what they’re doing,” said Davis, a former business executive who previously served as chancellor of the University System of Georgia. “She’s an experienced superintendent, far more than I.”

Dr. Meria Carstarphen named Atlanta Public Schools superintendent – CBS46 [with video]

“You have my commitment to do my part to ensure the district is really being thoughtful about all of the challenges it has had in the past,” Carstarphen told the crowd at district headquarters.

She said she would focus on operations, academics and leadership issues.

Carstarphan will officially start on July 7, but will be back and forth to Atlanta in the interim.

“This is a hard job,” said outgoing Superintendent Erroll Davis, who led the district since 2011. “It’s day-to-day trench warfare. It is hand-to-hand combat but I have to admire the people who want to do these things.”

[Added] Dr. Meria Carstarphen Confirmed as APS Superintendent: Hear Part of Her Speech – WABE

[Added] APS votes to hire new superintendent - WSBTV [with video]

You have my commitment to do my part to ensure that the district is really being thoughtful about all of the challenges that it has had in the past, but also mining out the nuggets of extraordinary work and quality work that can be – and will be – scales up across the system.

‘Believe again’ – New super, new day for APS –

“This moment represents a time for the city to believe again,” [BOE Chairman] English said. “It’s time for us to believe again. We’ve been through a dark time and that time is over.” 

During her remarks after the vote Carstarphen, said that she knows her job involves rehabilitating the public image of APS. “I know that it is time to bring the pride back to this school system,” she said. 

The new superintendent warned APS staff that there’s much to do. “People, you’re going to work harder than you’ve ever worked before,” she said during the press conference. “We’ll try to make it fun. We’ll try to make it exciting. We’ll try to make it rewarding.” 

APS confirms new superintendent. Will the warm glow endure? – Get Schooled Blog

Atlanta Public Schools will begin a new chapter under a dynamic young superintendent confirmed by the school board this afternoon.

Whether Meria Carstarphen can transform APS remains to be seen. The 44-year-old brings a record of success, energy and personal charisma to a system still recovering from a test cheating scandal brought to light by the AJC.

While I’ve received a few emails from Atlantans concerned the school board only brought forth one finalist in its search to replace Erroll Davis, parents and community members overall seem delighted with the selection of Carstarphen.

She will begin her tenure with a critical asset – a supportive school board. Six of the nine APS school board members are also new to their jobs, elected by reform-minded voters in November.  Four of the board rookies are ex teachers under the age of 40.

However, relations between superintendents and school boards can degenerate from warm and fuzzy to cold and hostile in a short time. Given the rapid turnover among big district leaders – see Cobb County – Carstarphen would be wise to make her mark and her reforms quickly while she has the good will of the board and the parents.

APS Press Release – Dr. Meria Carstarphen – Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent – Key Provisions of Contract

  • Three-year contract
  • Base Salary: $375,000
  • Retirement Contribution: 10% of the annual salary
  • Medical, vision, dental, disability and life insurance coverages
  • One-time relocation reimbursement
  • Automobile Allowance: $1200 a month
  • Expense Allowance: $800 a month
  • Annual performance evaluation to be conducted by Board
  • Contract does not include any provisions for performance bonuses

To place Carstarphen’s compensation in context, the AJC published the following schedule (see here – behind pay wall),

 Metro Atlanta Superintendent Salaries

  • Meria Carstarphen, incoming Atlanta superintendent, $375,000.
  •  Erroll Davis, Atlanta, $258,837
  • Michael Hinojosa, Cobb County, $247,625
  • Michael Thurmond, DeKalb County, $275,000
  • Robert Avossa, Fulton County, $315,587
  • J. Alvin Wilbanks, Gwinnett County, $503,623

And one more point of context on Carstarphen’s compensation which I prepared based on salary data provided by APS, 

 Carstarphen Comp multiples

And from the Austin Independent School District, where Carstarphen served as superintendent since 2009,

Austin Superintendent Carstarphen formally accepts job in Atlanta - Austin American Statesmen

“As I leave Austin, I feel assured knowing that AISD will remain in the good hands of our extraordinary educators, leaders and community — from our Board of Trustees and our front-line service providers to our civic leaders and families,” Carstarphen said in a written statement shortly after she formally accepted the new position.

Carstarphen has been lauded for raising overall graduation rates and for steering the district through difficult financial storms, including a district state of financial exigency in 2011 for which 1,110 positions were eliminated and legislative budget cuts to public education. She also was successful in launching a number of successful programs, including dual language and Early College Start programs.

But the school leader was criticized for the loss of two of four bond proposals last spring and for not getting community buy-in for such decisions as partnering with IDEA Public Schools to form an in-district charter school, among other things. She has had a rocky relationship with some trustees, and the school board in December did not give her a contract extension during her evaluation. Her contract would have expired in June 2015.

“It has been a privilege to serve the students and families of Austin — and to work with and for you,” she said in her statement.

Austin ISD appointing Dr. Paul Cruz as interim superintendent – KXAN

Cruz was part of Carstarphen’s senior cabinet. He is currently the Chief Schools Officer for AISD and provides academic guidance and support for all campuses. It is a position he’s held for the last five years.

Dr. Carstarphen – good luck in your new role – the community is behind you and we all look forward to working with you and on behalf of improved educational outcomes for the students in Atlanta!

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Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen elected as next Atlanta Public Schools superintendent

April 14, 2014

In a unanimous vote, the Atlanta Public Schools’s Board of Education approved the contract for Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen as the next superintendent of APS. Her contract is for three years.

Based on all the research I have done, Carstarphen is an excellent choice and the entire system will be better for it.  And while I believe that teachers and principals will enjoy working with her, it is also my sense that the kids will benefit the most from her appointment.

Improved educational outcomes – that is her focus and priority.

Let’s roll!

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A beautiful essay by a Garden Hills parent in Atlanta

April 14, 2014 just published a piece titled “Essay: I’m glad my kids go to Atlanta Public Schools – The lessons I learned while my twins attended Garden Hills Elementary” by Ann Hardie. It is a great reflection on why her children attend Garden Hills and how the entire family has been enriched by the experience.

Providing some limited excerpts would not give it the justice it deserves – read the whole thing here.

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Updates to Atlanta Public School Board of Education meeting today – (1) Combine Coan and King Middle Schools into Coan – then renovate King; (2) Y15 Budget taken off agenda

April 14, 2014

The Atlanta Public School’s administration has revised the agenda for today’s Board of Education meeting as follows (for a complete review of the agenda items – see here):

Combine Coan and King Middle Schools – see recommendation here with the following reasoning (emphasis added),

The Jackson cluster has two feeder middle schools. Both schools are underutilized in a school system where staff and other critical resources are tied to student enrollment.

Sammye E. Coan Middle School has a current population of approximately 260 students. The facility is designed to hold 1,025 students. There are 441 students living in the Coan zone, which means approximately 50 percent of the in-zone students attend Coan. Within the next five years, Coan attendance is not estimated to exceed 300 students.

Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School has a population of an estimated 460 students in a building that is designed to hold 1,000 students. Of the 718 students living in the King zone, nearly 60 percent of the students attend King.

Combine Coan and King middle schools at the end of the 2013-14 school year. Students at Coan and King middle schools would merge to form a new Jackson cluster middle school. Students in the newly formed middle school would be located at the Coan campus for one to two years while King receives a major $10 million to $20 million renovation from current SPLOST funds to reflect current design principles for educational facilities. Enhanced student supports and social services (e.g., security, social worker, counselors, etc.) would be added at the Coan building as part of an active plan to ensure a smooth transition for all students.

Comment - This consolidation of schools is very reasonable. Leaving two schools open that are underutilized simply results in an a lower amount of resources for each student body. The savings from closing one school – which include school administrative and operations support staff – should result in those savings being brought back into the unified school.

Carstarphen Election as Superintendent – Also, as a scheduling note, the Board will meet at 11:45 a.m., but intends to immediately move into Executive Session to further consider the last details associated with Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen’s contract. The actual vote to elect her as the next APS superintendent will be held at approximately 1:30 p.m.

FY15 Budget – The FY15 Budget has been pulled from the agenda.

Comment – My sense is that there is some discomfort on the Board regarding the fact that no expenditures have been reallocated from administrative functions to direct instruction activities. All newly elected Board members included this reallocation in their campaigns during the last election and, so far, the administration has been unwilling to conform to the Board’s requests on this issue.

While I believe there are other alternatives to deal with the budget and get it passed so that the new superintendent can weigh in and make the needed changes, it appears as if the Board is going to try to continue negotiating with an administration that has clearly stated it is not budging.

It is time to move on – the current administration is not a willing partner in this discussion – and with two feet out the door, any further discussion with them on the budget is futile and can only result in mischief and cause disarray. The Budget Commission and the Board should maintain their stance on reallocation or reduction of expenditures, but also send a message to the current administration that their time is past and the Board is moving forward with the new superintendent.

How can they do this? Simple – pass the current budget “as is” and place a moratorium on $15-25 million in spending that cannot be spent or committed until the new superintendent reviews the budget and makes recommendations for changes.

This will kill two birds with one stone – the current administration is bypassed without an unnecessary fight and the new superintendent will show us her position on spending issues early in her administration. I would suggest that her historical performance on these issues is completely in-line with the campaign promises made by the Board.

It is time to move on and give the new superintendent the flexibility to quickly begin reshaping an administration that has been unresponsive and self-serving at best.

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Atlanta Public School Special Legislative Meeting announced – sole agenda item is election of Dr. Meria Carstarphen as next superintendent

April 12, 2014

APS has announced that a Special Legislative Meeting of the Board of Education has now been scheduled for Monday at 11:45 a.m. – the sole agenda item is the election of Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen as the next superintendent of APS.

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Community meeting with APS Superintendent-elect Carstarphen scheduled for Sunday at 3 pm

April 12, 2014

Per an APS media advisory that was just issued, Dr. Meria Joel Carstarphen will address citizens and answer their questions at Antioch Baptist Christian Church, 2001 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, SW, Suite 108, Atlanta, GA 30310, at 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday, April 13, 2014.

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