Great letter from a parent on a specific Atlanta Piublic School budget issue

Below, and in its entirety, is a letter written by Michelle Constantinides – a Morningside parent with three children in APS – to the Board of Education on the elimination of the Extended Day program. I consider this letter to be a textbook example of a thorough and well supported set of arguments. It states the case clearly, is factual and provides alternative solutions.

While Ms. Constantinides may not get what she is asking for, her thorough presentation will get the attention of Board members and the administration.

Michelle – well done!

Dear BOE members,

As the state’s legislature ended this session and approved the FY15 budget, local school systems were finally given enough additional funding to restore their calendars to 180 days (as mandated) by ending furloughs.  In the last seven years, the school calendars of at least 2/3 of the state’s systems have not included 180 days.  Now, finally, the crucial seat time needed by Georgia’s students can be restored in FY15.

At the same time, Atlanta Public Schools (APS) is reviewing its budget for FY15, and determining that, rather than increasing seat time for all its students, it will cut seat time at two of its most successful elementary schools.  Morningside Elementary School and Springdale Park Elementary School have operated on “an extended day schedule” for years.  The schedule was implemented at Morningside, and carried over to Springdale Park when it was created, to act as a pilot program alongside numerous other schools, including Centennial Elementary which will be converting to a charter school next year.

Over the years, data was not collected, and the remaining schools were dropped from extended day.  Last year, the same proposal of elimination was in the budget and the three elementary schools worked hard to keep it.  Now, the district is seeking to save roughly $385,000 by ending extended day rather than expanding the program.  The two main reasons given are equity and money.

Yes, extended day should be in all APS elementary schools.  That answers equity. Some board members point to equity in teacher’s pay.  The concern is either that elementary school teachers are over paid or that middle and high school teachers are underpaid.  This is a personnel matter and therefore, not relevant to the question of extended day.  What is relevant is when a group of teachers works more hours than their peers teaching the same grades, they should be compensated for that time.

So, if money is the other, where will we find the funds – APS FY15 Budget<>?  

Let’s start with Employee Benefits (worker’s compensation) up over $2.5M.  Take a look at the value of the  “Professional Services, Other Purchased Services and Supplies” up over $3.3M in Curriculum and Instruction (C&I), as well as “Professional Services” in IT up close to $2M.  Also, in Marketing and Communications, APS has 11 employees making over $920,000 in salaries and benefits with another 8 employees in External Affairs with close to $900,000 in salaries and benefits.  How are these dollars benefiting schoolhouses and providing tangible supports to students?

It seems unfortunate that in a time when schools must evolve to prepare students for the high-tech 21st century, the traditional 6.5 hours, 180 days, agricultural driven school day reigns in APS’ elementary schools. With the implementation of Common Core and the proven use of data-driven assessments, adding a mere 30 minutes to each school day results in an additional 90 hours a year of valuable time to effectively manage clear objectives as outlined in the School’s Continuous Improvement Plan.  

Ideally, certain identified schools would likely need to increase learning time by an additional 2 hours like those successfully implemented extended day programs in APS charters, Drew and KIPP, and basically in almost every high-performing charter network in the country.  When are we going to use any best practice from these centers of innovation? Think about it, 90 hours is almost double the time students receive in APS’ Summer Academy with instruction coming from the teachers and staff who know the students the best in the environment that the student knows best. Getting schools focused on how to use time with clear expectations, will accelerate achievement and eliminate opportunity gaps, and ultimately engage all stakeholders.  Implementing an extended day design around scheduling, and instructional approaches with proper staff and training will ensure a successful outcome.

Of course, this means having the appropriate resources and related services for interventions in RTI, SST and Special Education with those administrators also taking part of the day to deliver services to students and offer expertise to teachers. Providing additional time for core instruction and differentiated support to reflect each student’s needs which includes academic interventions or acceleration demands more time.  If the time is given to ensure instruction and interventions,  academic performance will rise and perhaps even prove that certain identified schools will need additional time in the day to deliver these expectations with fidelity.

 Additional time can meet the needs for our most at risk students while maintaining a well-rounded education with enrichment offerings for all students to ensure that the school day is enjoyable. Providing additional time offers opportunities for teacher collaboration to strengthen instruction and improve achievement focused on data-informed instruction, and when aligned with school-wide priorities, builds a collective and collaborative culture and environment. Providing additional time enhances the school culture to build high academics and behavioral expectations for all students and a culture of professionalism for all adults.

The District’s responsibility is to provide support, leadership, strategic planning and creative problem solving for each school based on school-wide priorities.  Consider taking the C&I expertise on the road and placing a team or mentor in each elementary school to ensure fidelity of learning for all students. Our goal should be to broaden opportunities for all students!  

It should be obvious that more than 6.5 hours in a school day is needed.  If it is not, then strong consideration should be given to pair the current two elementary schools with two  of the lowest performing schools and pilot a program, collecting data this go around, that is good time spent in over 1,000 schools in our nation.


Michelle Constantinides

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]


One Response to Great letter from a parent on a specific Atlanta Piublic School budget issue

  1. Yes I agree I think the letter is very clear and offers solutions for very tough decisions.concerning the Budget.

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