APS – A Unique Opportunity to Understand the Administration’s Budget Priorities and Objectives was Missed

Yesterday, Board Member Courtney English set up a meeting for interested members of the public to meet with Superintendent Davis and CFO Chuck Burbridge to review the FY14 Budget. It was an opportunity to find out what the Administrations priorities and objectives were for the upcoming year. In addition, it was an opportunity to begin working on developing a budget process that has become a mess.

Unfortunately, more that 90% of the meeting was focused on “class size” and more specifically the “class size” at specific schools. While this is an important issue, it is a symptom and not the root problem – which is how APS allocates resources within the system. I can understand why the parents took the opportunity to discuss their specific issues, however, it allowed Davis to focus on “details” and he did not have to address the more fundamental problem that APS is facing.

The broader issue is the allocation of resources to Direct Instruction (a subset of which is “class size”) versus School and General Administration. The Administration is conflating two distinct activities – Direct Instruction and School Administration by, instead of addressing each separately, they discuss the combined costs as “School House” spending. In fact, when asked directly what the split was between Direct Instruction and School Administration that total to the “81%”, neither Davis nor Burbridge knew the answer! However, a subsequent statement by Burbridge provided a strong clue to the answer. He indicated that to bring APS into conformance with State “class size” requirements, the cost would be approximately $24 million. This number is consistent with my earlier estimates and indicates that my assessment that the split is approximately 62% Direct Instruction and 19% School Administration (plus other centrally controlled costs) was in fact correct.

Just as importantly, when I asked Davis specifically if he believed the allocation of resources between Direct Instruction and School Administration was appropriate, he stated he did not know and did not have adequate information to make the subjective value judgment. How odd is that? Davis’ main argument is that if cuts have to be made, a substantial portion of the cuts will have to be made in the 81% component. However, no distinction is being made between potential cuts to Direct Instruction and to School Administration as broadly defined in the 81%. In fact, if you look closely at the proposed cuts, the vast majority fall at the Direct Instruction level and not at the School Administration level.

As I noted above, the “class size” issue is a symptom of policies and resource allocations made by the Administration. And the solution is to reallocate resources from School and General Administration towards Direct Instruction which would begin to alleviate the “class size” issue. This is not to say it would be solved, but it would be a step in the right direction. My suggestion to interested parents concerned about the “class size” issue is to focus on driving the Administration to allocate more resources towards Direct Instruction and away from General and School Administration. And then fight hard in the “School House” with Principals to make sure they are using the resources appropriately.

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