Board of Education Special Legislative meeting review – budget passed & middle school merger approved

The Atlanta Board of Education held a Special Legislative meeting last night and approved the FY15 Budget and the merger of the Coan and King Middle Schools.

As posted last night, the FY15 Budget was passed on a 6-3 vote,

The Atlanta Public School’s Board of Education passed the FY15 Budget which calls for $633 million in revenues and $658 million in spending and relies on the use of $25 million in General Fund reserves. The vote was 6-3 with Board members Nancy Meister, Jason Esteves and Steven Lee dissenting.

The adopted budget, excluding the $49 million pension liability payments, spends $12,183 per traditional school student versus $11,410 during the current year – a $773 or 6.8% increase.

The Board anticipates that it will work closely with the new superintendent to develop a revised budget in the near future.

It was interesting to note that Budget Commission members Esteves and Meister, who had voted (with reservations) to forward the budget to the full Board for approval, in the end voted against the budget proposal.

For more detail on the expenditure increases, see here. Additionally, the AJC reports,

The budget is the school system’s most expensive ever, and it’s about 11 percent higher than last year’s $595 in general fund expenditures.

Prior to adopting the budget, each Board member commented on the spending plan. Per the Talk Up APS Live Blog of the meeting, the following are some of the excerpts of their comments:

Leslie Grant: A lot of criticism about the way we are spending the money. Couple of concerns, as a district we have put an emphasis on quality teaching over the class size piece and I don’t think that has been communicated to the public and I don’t think that argument has been properly framed.

Byron Amos – Budget Commission member:   We tried hard and I think we succeeded with the end of furlough days.  And with the pay raises, I think that helps with the morale of the district.  Those two things in themselves put the budget ahead of where we were last year.  

I’d also like to talk about things that we’ve missed.  When it comes to SST positions, I think we could have fully funded the wrap around services the Deputy Superintendent asked for.  I asked how effective would they be by just placing them in the schools without support.  

The budget moves us into a one size fits all category.  It does not speak to middle school students – there are special things that need to be done for that population.  Other than SST, how is this budget tied to our at risk population and middle school kids.  Class sizes on one of the district means something different than it means on the other side of the district.  I want to see how the quality of the teacher diminishes with the social ills in the classroom.  We say we have the ability to give our principals lower class sizes by using Title funds to hire teachers, but Title funds should be used to close unintentional gaps and not the intentional gaps we’ve created by not providing teachers.

Nancy Meister – Budget Commission member:  As you’ve said it is a pie and can be sliced many different ways.  My hope is that this BOE would give you 7 more days to go back and re-slice this pie.  I may have agreement, I may not but that is my hope so that we knew better what we are passing or not passing today.

Steven Lee: I think Mr. Amos hit on a lot of my points.  I want to make sure that we are aware that our primary mission as a BOE is to provide a quality learning experience and quality education for our children.  Although we’ve gotten a lot of positives out of this budget, I feel that a lot of areas that [remain underfunded]. If you show me your budget, I’ll show you your priorities and I’d like to see more of our priorities on our children.  Although this budget has some positives, there are things in this budget I think we should be more focused on. Almost every one of the central office departments have an increase yet we are decreasing services at the bottom line.  I have very serious concerns in regard to where it is.

Eshe’ Collins:  I must admit there are some holes but it is a whole lot better than the first budget presented to the Commission.  I do understand that we have to move forward with retaining great leaders and teachers and this is the season to do that.

Cynthia Briscoe Brown: While it was not a perfect process it was a much better one and I think that we accomplished more as a group than has been accomplished in a good long while… I have thought seriously about voting against this budget.  Many of you have encouraged me to do so.  It has become obvious to me that voting against this budget will not make it better.  It is no secret that the current administration is outgoing.  As an attorney, I’ve learned to not fight a battle I cannot win. I am confident that our new superintendent will not dig in her heels and will work with us and for us.

Jason Esteves – Budget Commission member:  I want to remind everyone that this is one of the largest budget requests that this school system has ever had. [Says that this budget is not necessarily taking steps towards placing funds in the classroom or cutting positions in central office.  He has asked that positions/funds are cut that don’t directly impact kids].  We should not expect the community to accept large class sizes and limited academic programs if this BOE and administration is not making the central office more efficient.  

I feel like we are missing an opportunity to start the reforms we all know need to be made for this school system and that is extremely disappointing.  

Matt Westmoreland – Budget Commission Chair:   I am grateful that this budget will for the first time provide pay raises and not submit employees to furlough days.  I am grateful that this administration made investments in fine arts, nursing, counselors, etc. and I am grateful that this budget discussion started with principals. [Principals recommended new SST positions and those requests were met in this budget].  I am grateful we are having this conversation in mid-April [2 months earlier than last year].  This is not a perfect budget.  Everybody up here will agree with that.  I appreciate the motion Nancy made last week that recognizes that we are not there yet. [see here for motion made by Meister in the Budget Commission meeting].

Courtney English: … What you must do is continue making investments in the strategic plan.  This budget continues funding [strategic plan] points such as access to higher level math by all students, access to foreign language and the arts.  We are making significant investments in physical education.  

We went out and asked our school leaders ‘what do you want to do’ and overwhelmingly they said this [SST].  We said on the campaign trail that we wanted to listen to the folks who take care of our kids.  We are providing enhanced technology and support for our classrooms in order to improve the reliability and use of computer equipment by students and teachers….The administration took that and said let’s not just expand that to address remediation, but also give opportunities to kids to get ahead.  

I think that is a critical thing we can point to speak to how we are reaching kids.  This goes a long way, in a period of transition, to address a lot of the issue folks are concerned about.  I think this budget continues the work that has already provided meaningful results for our children.

On the issue of merging the Coan and King Middle Schools, see the AJC’s report here. Additionally, Dan Whisenhunt, who has followed this story closely, reports at,

The Board of Education approved plan 8 to 1 at a special called meeting on April 22, according to the TalkUP APS blog. Board of Education Member Byron Amos, District 2, was the only no vote.

Under the plan, Coan and King would combine in the 2013-2014 school year. During the first year of the merger, all students would attend classes on the current Coan campus, Superintendent Erroll Davis said. While the students are at Coan, King will receive a $10 million to $20 million renovation.

Matt Westmoreland, the BOE member representing the Jackson High School cluster, voted for it. According to the blog, Westmoreland said that he was “frustrated” that the conversation was taking place so close to the start of a new school year, but he thinks this was the right decision because he would “be even more frustrated if children are left in a school that the BOE is being told is not working,” according to the TalkUP APS account of the meeting.

Amos said, “Having a hard time knowing where to start. I held my nose and voted for a budget that stinks but this is downright disrespectful. That manual that was held up was written on the backs of Kennedy Middle students. After one year of complete Armageddon and no learning taking place at Brown Middle School, I asked what lessons did we learn at Brown and how will we relate those lessons to Parks. Now we sit here and say 3 years later and say that now that we are going to get it right. Before we do that we need to honor the people where we got it wrong and at least admit that we got them wrong. … Let’s come up with a different way of doing things.”

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]

5 Responses to Board of Education Special Legislative meeting review – budget passed & middle school merger approved

  1. H.A. Hurley says:

    SST positions were a priority according to school leaders. The position requires many parent/tchr meetings, paperwork, computer time & follow-up on RTI progress documented by teachers.
    This was not a full-time position – often done by counselors, assist.principals and teachers.
    What are the changes in this position to warrent the large sum of $$$?

    • I think you have already hit the core of the argument and the justification for adding these positions into the budget. As you note, “The position requires many parent/tchr meetings, paperwork, computer time & follow-up on RTI progress documented by teachers.” The individuals that coordinated all of this were performing the function part-time and were not being sufficiently effective in the process. The budget adds 50 staff that will handle the coordination effort on a full time basis. The larger schools will have a dedicated staff and the smaller schools will share staff. During all the discussions on this issue, the administration repeatedly pointed to their discussions with principals on what additional services they needed – this was number one on their list. Thanks. Bob

  2. H.A. Hurley says:

    Good decision.
    Big job and an important job for due process reasons, too. If children are referred and eligible for SpEd services & legal questions surface, the initial SST documentations are scrutinized and any errors in due process or data can render a case as: Blank Check case. Many of us know how SpEd cases can go.
    Some positions in schools should not be done ‘on the cheap’ and this in one of them. Another position like that is the SpEd !eads – tons of documentation/meetings/IEPs/due process. Numerous SpEd cases in APS could have been avoided & $M saved.
    Spend $$ up front or pay later? APS must be much smarter in this area.

  3. Beverly Fraud says:

    Speaking of SpEd, very disturbing story from WXIA. Again, we (possibly) have another case of a teacher not being supported, and administration (again possibly) sweeping it under the rug, until the teacher took extraordinary measures to videotape it.

    What if this teacher hadn’t been willing to put herself out there? How long would this (alleged) abuse have happened if the teacher hadn’t taken this step?

    Are the administrators involved being investigated to see if THEY should be held accountable as well?

    Or is this more evidence that “sweeping it under the rug” is still part and parcel of the APS culture?

    Another (to borrow from the previous poster) “blank check case” coming as a direct result of not empowering, and not supporting the classroom teacher?

  4. H.A. Hurley says:

    Whistle blowers are never treated well!
    Code of Ethics & laws require reporting, but some admins, not just on APS, choose to do nothing.
    Document! Document! Document!
    See something, say something!
    Whistleblower Hot Line!
    This new documented observation is a criminal and PSC matter.
    Not too long ago parents sewed a recording device into clothing of a student with Autism to record the staff.
    Blank Check!? $$$$
    Most of all: Those poor students & parents.
    School systems must have a Zero Abuse Policy & enforce it!

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