The Atlanta Public School system is at a financial crossroads and it now has an opportunity to make the right choice on behalf of the students. Over the last month, there has been a continuing struggle to pass a budget for next year – finances are tight – however, the Administration now has the opportunity to reallocate resources in a way that will benefit the kids in school.
The major issue in front of the Board of Education is the average class size and, for the last several years, the Board has requested a waiver from the GA Department of Education’s mandated class size at the Elementary, Middle and High School levels. In the past, the waiver requested by the Board has allowed class sizes at the Elementary and Middle School levels to go from one to five additional students above the statutory maximum (up to three in the High Schools). But this year parents have risen up in opposition to the “waiver” and inundated the Board with pleas for help. The parents are passionate as they talk about their children in classes even above the “waiver” levels and they are concerned that they will encounter the same problem in the upcoming year.
The Administration has indicated that removing the waiver in its entirety across all schools would cost an additional $24 million – a level of resources the system just does not have available for the upcoming year. At the same time, the Administration has also indicated that the cost of reducing the waiver to “one to three” – which would only impact the Elementary and Middle Schools – is approximately $7.3 million. This is a critical point, as the issues regarding the class size are most acute at the Elementary and Middle School levels. So the Board faces a very stark choice – approve the waiver “as is”, or reduce the waiver to a level that eases the problems where it is most acute and incur the cost to do so.
The reduction in the waiver is the right thing to do, but where will the resources to pay for it come from? Over the last year, I have looked deeply into the system’s finances and the answer is very clear. It is now time to reallocate money from School Administration, Facilities and General Administration functions and move it to Direct Instruction by increasing the number of teachers for the upcoming year. Why is this possible now? It has become very apparent over the last several years that, when budget cuts are made, the impact is primarily on teachers – the administrative functions have essentially been spared staff reductions. This has been the case even though a number of schools have been closed and enrollment in the system has declined. This trend of driving resources to administrative functions, at the expense of teachers and class size, has to be reversed.
After an extensive review of the detailed Preliminary Budget for FY14, there is room for cuts in the administrative functions. In fact, my assessment is that there is at least $8.25 million that could be taken out of the administrative and operations functions and redirected towards Direct Instruction and provide more teachers in the classroom. This amount is more than sufficient to begin to alleviate the “class size” problem and would allow the Board to reduce the waiver request to no more than three above the DOE maximum. Will all the problems be solved by doing so? Absolutely not, but at least it is a start in the right direction. Remember who educates the kids – it is teachers and not “administrative staff”.
The Board and the Administration have a mandate to educate our children – it is now time to drive resources towards meeting that mandate in a way that is most effective by placing additional resources in the schools and taking them out of the downtown central office.
The Board will likely vote on this on Wednesday – so time is short and you must speak up now so that your voice will be heard. If you agree, contact your Board Member and let them know that this issue is important to you – and that their position on this issue will sway how you will vote in November.