Recap of the March 3rd Atlanta Public School Board of Education meeting [Updated]

The Board of Education held its monthly meeting yesterday and an extensive transcript of the meeting is at Talk-Up APS. The following is a summary of the key items discussed and decisions made.

Superintendent Davis addressed two issues at the start of the meeting, as follows:

Davis on the Emergency Preparedness – Davis spoke about the operating changes that needed to be made to be better prepared for snow or other early school closing emergencies in the future. A partial list of recommendations that the administration is considering is at Talk-Up APS (here). Of note, Davis indicated that the Policies that were in place were adequate, but the Regulations under which the administration operates need to be revised to improve emergency preparedness.

Davis on the Changes in School Principals (excerpts from his statement) –

Recently, we notified a number of principals that they would not serve in the role of principal at their particular school next year. Since then, we’ve heard from students, parents, community members and employees, who are rightfully concerned about the leadership changes. And while it would not be prudent of me to address specific personnel matters in this forum, I do want to address some of the concerns as best as possible… We …must make decisions based on the best interest of our students and school.

Unless removed for cause or immediate resignation, all of the principals notified will continue at their schools through the end of this school year.

At this point, we do not anticipate any more involuntary changes to school principals in advance of the 2014-15 FY.

Davis addressed the issue further during the Legislative Meeting after a very lengthy Executive Session,

We cannot turn back the clock, but we are going to have meetings with school leadership groups to explain the processes we use both in terms of what goes into a decision as well as what are the next steps, what are the timing of those next steps and also to listen to whatever other concerns, academic or non-academic and we are starting that process this week.  

We certainly could have done better in terms of communication and given an opportunity to explain the process it will give us the chance to explain that these are not unreasoned decisions.

[Comment – in almost every instance there is a controversy, Davis always says “we could have communicated better”. This is a clear and continuing admission of failure on the part of APS to get ahead of what they know will be controversial decisions. Just in recent memory it happened with both the Bell Schedules and the Bus Routes.]

There is no “new direction” being sought… we are not contemplating any new directions.  

I gave a speech last year that we had changed out almost 75% of our principals.  40 principals were removed in the first month or two that I was here, almost all associated with CRCT.  Over the past 3 years we’ve changed out 27 principals, an average of 9 per year (not associated with CRCT).  This is not a sudden wholesale of change, this is in fact a smaller amount this year than in the past.

[Comment – The math does not work – there are upwards of 11-18 principal changes being made – no one will actually confirm the number. This does not square with the statement that this is “a smaller amount this year than in the past.”]

The state has told us that we have to replace all interims at non-performing schools and one permanent at a non-performing school for a total of 10 replacements due to the school turnaround process.

[Comment – while Davis confirms that there are “10 replacements due to school turnaround process”, it is likely that there are additional principals being replaced from “non-turnaround” schools.]

In addition, the Community Meeting was heavily weighted with many constituents speaking out about the principal changes and lasted over two hours. WABE has more on this story here. Additionally, Patch published a letter on the issue from former Board of Education candidate Ed Johnson here.

Finance Update – Chief Financial Officer Burbridge stated that revenues for FY14 would be approximately $15 million higher than originally budgeted. Local tax and QBE revenues would be approximately $23-24 million higher. However, the increase is offset by the removal of the $8-9 million in real estate sales revenues that were removed from the projection. The increase is composed of higher property tax revenues, higher car sales tax revenues and additional state QBE revenues to compensate teachers for increased medical insurance costs. Additionally, Mr. Burbridge stated that the $595 million expenditure authorization in the FY14 budget would likely be met and he did not anticipate asking for any additional spending authority. The net result is a reduction in the General Fund reserves that will be used in FY14 to balance the budget – down from $25 million to $10 million.

[Comment – this is all good news and there is a chance that the revenues will even be stronger than currently projected that will result in an even lower General Fund balance use.]

Project Thrive Update – Chief Human Resources Officer Ron Price provided a status update on the implementation of Project Thrive. Project Thrive was a complete reorganization of the HR function and included the consolidation into HR of a number of activities that were being performed by C&I. As noted in the prior post, Project Thrive was justified on the basis that the total cost would be reduced over time (for more information on Project Thrive, see here – go to the May 6, 2013 BOE Meeting and view item 1.02 Board Work Session Agenda where there is a link for the Project Thrive presentation).

Mr. Price indicated that the implementation of the Project was moving forward and was now fully staffed. The key issue that they were addressing was improving HR staff expertise in the new structure and methodology. Additionally, HR was taking steps to eliminate some of the burdensome manual processes by implementing technological solutions for faster screening of potential candidates, automating the onboarding process for new employees and automating the process for employees leaving the organization. The following are some of the key questions posed by the Board (paraphrased):

  • Meister – Can you please speak to the recruitment process? Price – We are seeing some improvement in the automated screening process that will more quickly establish qualified candidates for specific positions. In some instances, due to the volume of applications, the identification of qualified candidates has taken up to four months. The automated screening process is reducing that timeframe significantly.
  • Meister – Have you surveyed the principals on the effectiveness of Project Thrive? Price – No, not yet as we are still in the implementation phase. We can do so in the June/July timeframe. Superintendent Davis added – The Principal Committee has made a number of recommendations for improving the hiring process which are under consideration. Additionally, principals are attending job fairs to meet potential candidates for positions in their schools.
  • Collins – What are the priorities now in HR? Price – There are three priorities – 1) aligning people into their roles and gaining experience; 2) Getting a stronger handle on information systems and reducing the manual processes; and 3) a focus on the Center for Expertise department and specifically the principals in the system.
  • English – How do we make sure that the best people are in places with the greatest need? Price – it is critical that we have a strong performance review system that is adhered to. However, we cannot force a transfer. Superintendent Davis indicated that the performance review system was not as robust as it should be and often resulted in underperforming staff simply being shifted around the system versus being removed from APS. [Comment – while he did not say it specifically, the inference was that teacher tenure ties the hands of the administration and it is difficult to remove poor performers.]
  • Brown – The Project was based on achieving some cost savings – will this happen? Price – There were some issues in the original proposed budget and the FY14 budget may be exceeded by $200-300 thousand. We will update you on this at a later date. Additionally, it is important for the Board to understand that the Race to the Top Special Revenue Funds allocated to the Project in FY14 are going away in FY15. [Comment – the elimination of Race to the Top funding was specifically included in the original presentations made to the Board prior to the adoption of Project Thrive. See the picture in the prior post here. Let’s hope that Mr. Price is not trying to make a case for a FY15 budget that is substantially above the $6.6 million projection for FY15 that was made at the time the Project was sold to the Board.]

Other Agenda Items

2.XX – Revision of Grading Policy – this item was pulled from the final Agenda – no reasons were given why.

2.01 – Personnel Gains, Losses, Promotions, Appointments, Creations, Reclassifications and Abolishments – The Report was pulled from the Consent Agenda for further discussion. Per Talk-Up APS, one position was pulled from the draft report that was originally issued. [Update] – The creation and abolishment of one position was pulled from the report.

[Comment – I have compared the draft from yesterday morning to the final Report posted on the website and I cannot identify a position was taken off the Report. ]

2.XX – Authorization to abolish one Educational Telecommunication Specialist position and create one Media Production Specialist position. – This item was removed from the Agenda, but was subsequently approved as part of the Personnel Gains and Losses Report.

3.01 – Authorization to enter into and execute a contract to provide Blended Learning Consulting, Educator Workshops and Family Learning Workshops – $300,000 – There were no questions and the item was approved as part of the Consent Agenda. The contract is with Computers for Youth and will result in the expansion of a program system-wide.

3.02 – Authorization to enter into and execute a contract for a Human Resource Delivery Solution – $297,660.

Brown asked if this software module was included in the original RFP. CHRO Price stated that it had not been included; however, the new module would replace an existing module that has a cost of $80 thousand per year.

Lee asked if the Board should expect more “unanticipated add-ons.  CHRO Price stated “No”.

5.01 – Authorization to settle Student vs. Atlanta Independent School System (Docket Number OSAH-DOE-SE-1423098-60-Miller) – no dollar amount provided. The Student filed a due process complaint alleging APS failed to provide Student with a free and appropriate public education. This item was likely discussed in the Executive Session. , but was not addressed in open session.  [Update] In open session the settlement was disclosed to be $5,000 for attorneys fees. The settlement was approved as part of the Consent Agenda.

The Board Meeting finally adjourned at 12:27 a.m.

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]

2 Responses to Recap of the March 3rd Atlanta Public School Board of Education meeting [Updated]

  1. H.A. Hurley says:

    Settlement for FAPE? Can be rather costly in legal fees & settlement costs. Any further info?

  2. Mark Niesse says:

    The item that was taken off the gains and losses report was under “Recommended Creation of Positions”: Media Production Specialist.
    During the legislative meeting, we learned that the value of the settlement was a total of $5,000 for attorney fees.

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