APS – IT – From First to Nearly Worst – CIO Williamson – Give Back the Crown!

June 22, 2012

The FY13 Proposed Budget showed that Mr. Wilkinson was the King of Fiscal Restraint – but this title evaporated when the actual budget was approved. In the Proposed Budget, IT spending was cut from the prior year by over 11% – while maintaining a very respectable $420 annual spending for each of the students and staff. But something happened on the way to approval and budgeted spending increased by $2.7 million, or an annual increase of $56 per student and staff. After all is said and done, the IT spending approved for FY13 is $24.3 million – just slightly higher than for FY12.

There are some things I just do not understand. The constituency IT serves is in going down – student enrollment and staff positions are projected to decline by 6.2% and by 6.9%, respectively. It would stand to reason that IT spending would decrease consistent with the constituent base it serves – if it had, the FY13 spending would have come down by at least $1.5 million. However, the initially proposed cut of $2.7 million was even better.

What happened? And what future benefits will APS get from the increase in IT spending? Can we count on future efficiencies that will reduce spending on IT or in other areas? Are there quantifiable educational outcomes that can be pointed to? Why was such a major change made without a clear and unambiguous statement made justifying the increase and quantifying the benefits?

I have learned a lesson – in the future, awards will be tentatively granted based on the Approved Budget and then awarded based on actual spending. Mr. Williamson – Give Back the Fiscal Restraint Crown!

APS FY13 Budget for Early Intervention Program – Numbers Don’t Make Sense

June 21, 2012

As I noted earlier, the focus on overall remedial education seems to be declining as the spending per student has decreased from $882 in FY09 to $734 in FY13 – a 16.7% decrease over five years. So I looked at the detail to see where spending was being cut within this group of departments and how priorities might be changing. However, as I looked at the detail for the five departments I have included in this group (Early Intervention Program (K-5), Remedial Education (6-12), ESOL/Bilingual, Extended Day, Summer School and Evening School), it appears that there may be an error in the FY13 Budget in the Early Intervention Program (K-5) FY13 Approved Budget.

The table below shows the key numbers for Salaries, Employee Benefits, Average Salaries and Employee Benefits and the number of positions budgeted for in FY12 and FY13.

You can see that the Salaries came down as compared to the FY12 Budget (and Employee Benefits went up – likely a correction of prior budgeting errors). However, while 149 positions were cut in this department in FY13, the average salary and benefits per employee skyrockets to $124,206 in FY13. Either total compensation is overstated or the number of positions is understated (or both). The alternative is that, APS has some very happy staff as their compensation nearly doubled! As this is unlikely, it looks like we have a budgeting error which could be very significant.

How significant? If we use average Salaries from FY12 to estimate the FY13 number, Salaries should be in the $11.3 million range – not $19.3 million. Alternatively, using the FY12 average salary to estimate FY13 positions, it comes out to be approximately 333 positions versus the 195 positions reported – a difference of 138. So in summary, the Budget may be overstated by $8.0 million or the announced position cuts are, in fact, approximately 138 less.

There may be other causes for the discrepancy noted above, but no one at APS has mentioned any other reasons for the substantial changes. Again, we will wait and see.

The Most Important People

June 20, 2012

Today at the AJC blog – Get Schooled by Maureen Downey – is an open letter from Professor David Dudley to everyone at  Georgia Southern University. It addresses many issues, but I was struck by the following part excerpted below. As they say, read the whole thing. 

“The Most Important People at Georgia Southern . . .

are not its president, nor its provost. Nor its other vice-presidents, deans, department chairs, advisors, staff members, or faculty members. The most important people here are our students, and when we forget that, we might as well turn off the lights, lock the doors, and go home.

The most important person on our campus is the young woman from a small southeast Georgia town who will enter here as a freshman in August. She will be nervous but excited. She might not know what she wants to study, but will find her interest sparked in a biology course, or a sociology class, or in a philosophy class. A certain professor will ask a certain question, present a certain problem, discuss a certain topic that this student has never heard of or thought of before. And then her education begins.

The most important person on our campus is the young man from Atlanta who could have gone to UGA but chose us because he was impressed by our personal regard for him as a student and as a person. He already knows he wants to study business, but he, too, will be surprised at how his intellectual field is enlarged by what he hears in an American history class, or in a geology lab, or at a construction site.

These young kids are more important than we are. That’s what we’ve told the world through our choice to help educate them, prepare them for the challenges of citizenship that lie ahead. We are here because we’ve chosen to serve them.”

He raises the level well beyond “priorities” – and brings to mind a true sense of “mission”.  Well done Professor!

To North Atlanta Parents – Get Over It! The APS HR System Worked.

June 20, 2012

An article in the Reporter Newspapers by Dan Wisenhunt (with what I believe is a misleading headline) does a thorough job of analyzing the APS hiring process and provides an excellent Q&A with school officials regarding the steps they take prior to hiring a candidate. And the process worked! So why are North Atlanta parents still upset regarding the consideration of a candidate for principal with a prior negative history?

A number of vetting steps are in place that culls out candidates that are not qualified or have other problems. The candidate in question got past the first step, but was identified in subsequent steps as a problem and the individual was not offered a position. While I am sure the HR function at APS is embarrased, the individual was not hired due to a public vetting (a step in the process). Again, the system worked as it should.

Parents  – move on to something more important!

APS – Textbooks FY13 Budget for Real or “Just for Show”?

June 20, 2012

As shown in the table below, for FY11 and FY12, the initial budgets for textbooks were well below the level that ultimately was spent. In each of the prior years, the initial under-budgeting amounted to 49.1% and 40.0%, respectively. It appears the same is likely the case for the FY13 Approved Budget which provides $4.0 million for textbooks. However, if we simply apply the same cost per student incurred in FY11 and FY12 for textbooks, the current budget is likely understated by $1.7 to$2.5 million, or 42.0-63.6%. Why is this consistently the case from year to year? The analysis is quite simple, but the Board only makes corrections with subsequent budget amendments that increase spending. Why not attempt to make a reasonable estimate in the first place?  The Board of Education passed the FY13 Budget with the full support of the Budget Committee. The consistent under-budgeting for textbooks could not have escaped notice in the process. I think this represents a good test of the Boards commitment to the FY13 Budget spending parameters. When it comes time to amend the FY13 Budget for the underfunding of textbooks, will they offset the spending increase with spending reductions in other areas? Or was the initial FY13 Budget for textbooks just a number for “show” with no meaning? We will see.

APS – Foreign Language Dept. – Doing More with the Same Resources? Applause is in Order!

June 19, 2012

As noted in the AJC article by Jamie Sarrio, the APS foreign language offerings will be expanded more evenly across the system. Per the article,

 “Atlanta Public Schools is introducing changes this fall to its foreign language program to address these issues and more. The district has one of the most comprehensive foreign language programs in the state, but as in many systems, access to different languages varies from school to school.”

 “… elementary instruction will be reduced from 150 to 90 minutes a week. The reduced class time will free up teachers, who will be reassigned to middle and high schools, where services will be expanded.”

Based on the financial information for the foreign language department, it appears that they are doing more with only a small change in available resources. The numbers of positions in this department have stayed constant at 114 since FY09. Salaries and Employee Benefits increased by 3.7% over FY12, but my sense is that this is likely to a sharper pencil being used to establish the budget as there were no raises incorporated into the FY13 Budget.

So, more opportunity for the students and there is no significant increase in spending. This is a trend I can live with!

Anita Lawrence, APS World Languages Coordinator – take a well-deserved bow! The standing ovation you hear from the taxpayers, students and parents is for your excellent efforts and leadership!

APS – An Assistant Principal in Every School – Sounds Great! But was it Really Just this Year’s Version of the “Administrator’s Full Employment Act”?

June 19, 2012

In the AJC article by Jamie Sarrio discussing the approval of the APS FY13 Budget, one of the changes that supported higher spending for the School Administration department is noted:

 “The district plans to add an assistant principal at every school — something promised during a massive school rezoning approved in April.”

And the budgeted School Administration personnel includes 53 new Assistant Principals which likely represents the majority of the $2.6 million increase in Salaries and Employee Benefits in this department. On its face, the addition of 53 Assistant Principals – one for each school – sounds good.

But was there another motive for adding these positions? Based on some of the reshuffling of positions in other school administration departments, it looks like we have generally the same people with simply new titles. While the School Administration department added a total of 74 positions (most of which are the new Assistant Principals), the school “Reform” departments decreased by 17 positions, the Office of High School decreased by 40 positions and administrators for the Exceptional Children decreased by 13 positions. It seems a bit curious to me that it was determined that 74 additional positions were needed in the School Administration Department at exactly the same time that it was also determined that 70 positions needed to be eliminated from other school administration functions. Was this a coincidence – or was it simply the implementation of the APS school administrator’s “full employment act” packaged in a way that made it sound palatable? I think I can guess at the answer. Tell me yours in the comments.

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