APS – Questions That Should be Asked at BOE Meeting on Monday

One of the primary functions of the BOE is to provide oversight for actions taken by the administration. Based on the information provided to-date for the BOE meeting this coming Monday and commitments made by the administration over the last several months, the following are a series of questions that the administration should answer – preferably in writing and in advance of the meeting.

Questions for Deputy Superintendent for C&I Karen Waldon

1.  The maximum class size was a significant concern during the recent budget discussions and the administration committed to maintaining class sizes at no larger than 24 for Elementary and and no more than 30 for Middle and High School (with minor variations allowed).

 –  Now that the school year has begun, what specific steps is the administration taking to ensure that maximum class sizes remain within the parameters established?

–  Even though it is early in the school year, have any critical class size problems been found? If so, how is the administration addressing them?

2.  The state funding for the Early Intervention Program dropped significantly from FY13. However, the administration agreed that the number of students who needed the EIP assistance did not change from the prior year. The administration committed to keep the same number of teachers in EIP as in FY13, however, they would be funded from both the General Fund and the Special Revenue Fund. In FY13 there were 244 teachers and 26 paraprofessionals as compared to the FY14 General Fund budget that included 161 teachers and 34 paraprofessionals. The number of “EIP like” teachers in the Special Revenue Fund has never been released publicly.

–  How many “EIP like” teachers are funded in the Special Revenues Fund and in what SRF account are they included?

–  On a combined basis, how many EIP teachers and paraprofessionals are currently on staff? If the number is below the budgeted level, how long until the function is fully staffed?

Questions for CFO Chuck Burbridge

1.  In prior meetings, you indicated that the APS books would be closed by August 15.

–  Is the closing of the accounting records still on schedule?

–  When will the actual results for FY13 be provided to the BOE?

–  Will Finance prepare an actual to budgeted comparison that is consistent with the format presented at the time the FY13 budget was approved?

2.  A significant component of the cost savings in the FY14 budget is the $5.9 million in Vacancy Management.

–  What steps are in place to monitor savings from Vacancy Management?

–  What reports will Finance provide to the BOE to show the level of savings and what positions are not being filled?

3.  The FY14 budget calls for significant savings from a reduction in cost for substitute teachers.

–  What steps are in place to monitor the use of substitute teachers?

–  How has the cost savings component been communicated to Principal’s who are the primary users of substitute teachers?

–  Are the Principals allocated a budget for substitutes or are there other control mechanisms in place?

4.  A recommendation is being made to enter into a contract for Professional Development and Tutorial Services for $785 thousand and will be funded from the Special Revenue Account 2486 – Title I – Improving Academic Achievement.

–  The total budget for FY14 for account 2486 is reported to be $34.3 million. When will the BOE see the budget detail by objects and staffing for this account?

–  How can the BOE be asked to approve a contract when the detailed budget for the funding source has not been provided to the BOE?

5.  Last year shortly after a FY13 budget was approved, the budget had to be amended to add approximately $6 million in additional appropriations from the previous year.

– Should we expect a similar amount this year?

–  If so, what recommendations does the administration have to cover these additional costs so that the deficit that is already at $25 million does not grow larger?

6.  The Payroll Department is requesting approval to eliminate six positions and create five positions – per the recommendation, the changes are “cost neutral”.

–  Given that there are six positions being eliminated and only five created, shouldn’t there be a cost savings?

–  Are any of the salaries for the new positions higher than the salaries for the positions previously held by the individuals?

Questions for CHRO Gray and DSC&I Waldon

1.  Project Thrive was approved this past year as a cost cutting measure. As part of the approval process, C&I committed to transfer a number of positions to HR with a cost value including employee benefits of approximately $1.8 million. The Personnel Gains and Losses Report indicates that HR is making significant progress in filling the positions listed under the Project.

– Are the cost savings presented under the Project Thrive initiative being realized?

–  Have all the positions identified as cost savings from C&I been eliminated and abolished – both in the General Fund and Special Revenue Fund?

Questions for Chief Human Resources Officer Michael Gray

1.  Per the Personnel Gains and Losses Report, there were 81 teachers hired and 76 teachers terminated, for a net increase of five. The budget calls for an increase in the number of teachers of approximately 80.

– How does the District stand in relation to the number of teachers on staff in comparison to the FY14 budget?

– Are there any current concerns in terms of filling critical positions?

2.  Since June 1, has any APS employee received a compensation increase other than those that have been presented as promotions in the Personnel Gains and Losses Report or that are the result of changes in educational status?

Questions for Chief Information Officer David Williamson

1.  Per the Personnel Gains and Losses Report, an IT Program Director was discharged (code 31).

–  Are there any concerns regarding breaches in IT security, the compromise of any data or the release on any non-public information?

Questions for General Counsel William Prescott

1.  A Childcare I staff was discharged (code 31).

–  Are there any concerns regarding the individual’s actions may have resulted in a legal problem for APS?

2.  The GA DOE Charter Schools Division Head Louis Erste stated that Superintendent Davis’ “position [to not recommend approval of the ACA charter petition until the pension litigation is resolved] may run afoul of a state law that requires charter schools to be approved if they meet legal requirements and are in the public interest. “It’s based on a relatively flimsy argument, and it could be illegal,” Erste said. “You can’t punish brand-new schools because of a mistake made in the past.” In addition, Mr. Davis’ recommendation clearly states that the ACA charter petition has met all the requirements and is worthy of approval.

–  What is your legal opinion of the statement made by Mr. Erste?

–  Should the BOE be concerned that disapproving the ACA charter petition on the grounds stated by Mr. Davis will embroil the District in additional and expensive litigation? 

Questions for Deputy Superintendent of Operations Larry Hoskins

1.  Superintendent Davis indicated that, since the bell schedule for the elementary schools was not changed to 7:45 a.m., certain cost savings could be achieved by a “slight” change in the elementary school bus schedules.

–  When did the Transportation Services Department become aware that the initial elementary school bus schedules would be changed from an arrival time of 7:30 a.m. to an arrival time of 7:10 a.m. (subsequently changed to 7:20 a.m. after the parents voiced significant concerns)?

–  The BOE did not approve a change in the elementary school bell schedule from 8:00 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. However, it appears that the bus schedules were changed anyway to provide for an additional time buffer between the elementary school bus arrival time and the start of bus routes for the middle and high school. Why were the parents (in the community meetings) and the BOE not informed that this additional time buffer would be put in place at the time the bell schedules were discussed?

–  There were numerous errors in the original bus schedules published for elementary schools (some starting at 5:45 a.m.). What process does the Transportation Services Department use to ensure the accuracy of the information published?

2.  Per the Transportation Services website and several public statements, the Transportation Services Department has 400+ buses in the fleet. However, there are only 274 bus drivers in the FY14 budget. While it is understandable that a certain number of spare buses be available, why are there 125+ more buses than certified bus drivers?

3.   Per the Personnel Gains and Losses Report, Mr. Kelvin Curtis is being appointed as the Interim Director of Transportation.

–  What is Mr. Curtis’ background and experience?

–  For at least two years in a row the bus scheduling has resulted in significant problems. What steps does Mr. Curtis envision will be required to prevent future significant problems in bus scheduling?

4.  Construction Status Report

–  Mary Lin – the project is moving towards developing a cost proposal. The current budget is $15 million. Are there any indications at this time that the budget will be exceeded?

–  Maynard Jackson – Are there any indications at this time that the $48.3 million budget will be exceeded?

–  NAHS – the status indicates that activity continues – what is the anticipated close out date on the project?

–  Rivers – what is the estimated completion date for the project?

–  Springdale Park – what is the estimated completion date for the project?

–  Sylvan – what is the estimated completion date for the project?

–  Young – what is the estimated completion date for the project? 

Questions for Associate Superintendent Steven Smith

1.  One of the primary reasons given for changing the bus schedules was to provide additional breakfasts to elementary school children. In FY13, there were 20,600 breakfasts served in the elementary schools and APS projects that this number will increase by 5% in FY14. This increase amounts to 1,030 additional breakfasts served (or approximately 0.1 meals per day per elementary school).

–  If serving additional breakfasts was one of the reasons for changing the bus schedules, shouldn’t there be a substantial number of additional breakfasts served at the elementary schools?

–  Starting in FY14, many of the elementary schools are providing free breakfasts to all students which will likely also increase student participation. Does the projection provided above also include a component for the additional free breakfast that will likely be served?

2.  In the July 2013 Special Personnel Gains and Losses Report, it was announced that the Executive Director of Communications Steven Alford was resigning with an effective date of September 30.

–  Is Mr. Alford still on the payroll or has his resignation become effective prior to the date reported in the Gains and Losses Report?

3.  Per the APS website, Mikkal Hart Murunga currently is listed as both the Executive Director of Communications and External Affairs and the Executive Director of Communications.

–  Ms. Murunga’s appointment to the dual role of Executive Director of Communications and External Affairs has not been presented in the Personnel Gains and Losses Report. Is the dual role anticipated to be permanent? If so, was Ms. Murunga’s compensation changed?

–  The August Personnel Gains and Losses Report presents a reclassification of the Executive Director of Communications to Director of Public Relations with a PMA-9 versus the prior PMA-10. Is the current position of Executive Director of Communications being abolished?

–  Are the External Affairs and Communications Departments being reorganized from two departments to one under the management of Ms. Murunga?

4.  The Personnel Gains and Losses Report indicates that a Director of Broadcasting has been appointed. The Report indicates that this position is for the Communications Department.

–  Is this position the Director of Broadcasting shown in the budget under the AETC Department (9001)

5.  Per the Consultant and Professional/Technical Contracts Report, Prestige Universal is being paid $48 thousand out of General Funds for conducting activities in the Central Office. What services is Prestige Universal providing?

In addition there are a series of questions regarding the Atlanta Classical Academy charter petition that I posted yesterday – see here.

I am sure that some will say that asking these questions are a form of “micromanaging” the administration. My response is that the questions simply relate to statements made by the administration in the past and the BOE must ask the questions that hold them accountable for their statements.

As the information provided in advance for the BOE meeting generally has multiple revisions leading up to the meeting, I will continue to monitor the information for changes and add questions if appropriate.

Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]

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