Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education meeting recap

APS held its monthly BOE meeting yesterday – the following is a recap of the meeting with an emphasis on the items with financial implications. A complete transcript of most of the Committee of the Whole meeting is at the Talk Up APS blog here.

Final Numbers for FY13 – As noted last month the revenues for FY13 came in higher than budgeted (both E-Rate, the changed automobile taxes & higher than expected property taxes) and the expenditures were lower than budgeted. The net result was an increased in the General Fund balance from a beginning balance of $80.9 million to an ending balance as of June 30, 2013 of $83.7 million. See the PowerPoint slide at BoardDocs Item 1.01 here and a brief article in the AJC here.

Comment – this is very good news as the FY14 projected deficit of $25 million – which has some additional down side risk – should not result in a General Fund balance at or below critical levels.

Follow Up on the Budget Process – BOE member Nancy Meister requested that a Budget Commission meeting be set up to review the budget process and consider recommendations for improving the process for next year. In addition, the Budget Commission was tasked with reviewing the unfunded pension liability payments and the financial implications for Superintendent Davis’ recommendation to not approve any additional charter schools until the issue is resolved.

Comment – This Commission meeting is critical as it can serve as the basis for establishing a budget process that is far more transparent and more efficient than this past year.

Approval of New Contract for CFO Burbridge – A two year contract extension was approved for CFO Burbridge.

Comment – It is interesting to note that contract approval was not on the original agenda published in advance and was disclosed as an addition at the beginning of the meeting. Clearly the contract was not negotiated between last Thursday when the original agenda was published and last night. Why was it not on the original agenda? While this item was not controversial in terms of approving the extension, the fact that the public was not made aware of this item seems strange.

My sense is that the BOE should have tabled the approval until the next meeting and the public should have been given an opportunity to comment. Additionally, as Mr. Burbridge is central to improving the budget process, the BOE could have used his contract as leverage in the upcoming Budget Commission review of the budget process.

As a side note, I believe that Burbridge is doing a great job within the constraints imposed on him by others in the administration and I believe the contract extension is well deserved.

Conversion of Booker T. Washington High School to a “Small Learning Community” – The BOE approved changing Booker T. Washington High School to a “small learning community” versus a “small school model” effective for the FY15 school year. The new leadership for the school is scheduled to be hired by January 15. Superintendent Davis noted that there would be some cost savings as a result of the change, but the amount of savings is unknown at this time. See an additional article on this at the AJC here (behind pay wall).

Approval of the Use of the “old” Sutton Athletic Fields by Peachtree Road United Methodist Church (PRUMC) – PRUMC has used the E Rivers elementary school athletic fields for over a decade as the site for the soccer and other athletic programs it runs. With the renovations underway at E Rivers, the athletic fields are no longer available at that site until the project is complete. PRUMC requested that their lease to use the fields be transferred to Sutton – which is in the Chastain Park area – until the E Rivers fields came back on line. There were a number of speakers for and against this proposal. The opponents raised certain procedural issues regarding the approval process, certain non-specific background financial issues and concerns regarding the additional traffic in the Chastain area. For more see here.

Comment – My sense is that the BOE viewed the long relationship with PRUMC has having been a positive one and approved the continuation of the relationship.

Addition of a Position in Curriculum & Instruction – There was an extensive discussion on the recommendation to approve the creation of the “Director of Student Engagement and Behavioral Support” position. BOE member Butler-Burks questioned why this position was not included in the FY14 budget. Superintendent Davis stated that the position had been discussed in the Budget Commission meetings and that a special presentation had been prepared and shown to the Commission. Deputy Superintendent Waldon stated that a position had never been filled in FY13 and that the new position replaced the position not filled in the previous year. BOE Chair McDaniel asked why if a new position was being created, why wasn’t there another position being abolished. The ensuing Q&A was a bit contentious. Ultimately the position was changed from an addition to a reclassification of another position with a net change to the budgeted staff of zero.

Comment – There still are a couple of questions that remain unanswered. If the position was so important during the Budget Commission hearing that a special presentation was given by Waldon, why was the position not reflected in the FY14 budget? If it was simply an error or an inadvertent omission, they could have said so – but the administration did not say this. If the position is to replace an unfilled position already in the budget, why didn’t they simply present it as a reclassification that was effectively cost neutral? Additionally, at no time did the administration say that the reclassification that was agreed upon was from an existing position in the FY14 budget to the new position. All quite strange – and it looked like a completely bungled attempt on the part of the administration to slide a new position into the FY14 budget.

In addition, the level of mistrust between certain BOE members and Superintendent Davis was on full display. All I can say is that the administration has earned the mistrust and the BOE is becoming far more vigilant in its review of administration proposals and decisions.

Bus Drivers Show Up in Force to Seek Additional Pay – While not on the BOE’s agenda, during the Community Session, a large number of bus drivers and representatives from AFSCME spoke at length regarding the requirement that the bus drivers had an additional five days of training and that they were not paid for them. The administration position is that the bus drivers have a 190 day schedule (consistent with past years) and they would be paid for all 190 days worked. At no time has the administration requested that they work for more than the 190 days scheduled. Because there was  a demonstration, there were lots of reporters on hand and the demonstration has received both newspaper and TV play. A couple of links are here and here.

Comment – The bus drivers are being paid for the time they work – this is just a matter of their schedules being changed so that they would have an opportunity to practice their new bus routes. Nothing sinister going on here.

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]

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