Round-Up of APS Headlines from the Past Week

June 28, 2014

APS News

*** CRCT Exam Results

*** Beltline Debt to APS

*** APS Equity Audit

*** Outgoing Superintendent Davis

***Board of Education

***Board of Education Committee Meetings and Public Forums

  • Accountability Committee – the Committee met this week and is finalizing Superintendent Davis’ review.

*** Other APS News

Non APS News and Opinions of Interest

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]


A graphical review of APS CRCT performance – limited or no improvement

June 27, 2014

The GA Department of Education released the 2014 CRTC results for both the State as a whole and for each district. It has been previously noted that there was little change in the results from prior years and the APS substantial lag behind the state average remains.

Below are graphs for the CRCT reading and math results for the third, fifth and eighth grades. As you can see, there is some up and down movement, but it is all within a very narrow range indicating that the results have stagnated with little or no improvement over the last three years.

FY14 3g CRCT

Both third grade reading and math mirror the state results, however, the APS reading results are 6.8 points lower than the state and the math scores are in the 14-15 point range lower than the State.

FY14 5g CRCT

For the fifth grade, the State reading results have an upward trend, but it is relatively small over the last two years. On the other hand, APS fifth grade reading results bounced back from a low in FY13, but the gap between the State and APS widened slightly and now stands at 5.8 points. The APS results in math also bounced back from last year, but the gap between the State and APS results widened to 11.6 points as compared to FY12.

FY14 8g CRCT

The State eighth grade reading scores are on a slightly upward trend over the last two years. Again, APS eighth grade reading scores bounced back from last years results but the gap between APS and the State widened slightly as compared to FY12. In math, APS increased the scores from last year, but only came back to the level achieved in FY12 and the gap between APS and the State increased to 12.1 points.

Overall, not much changed. Probably the best that can be said is that the poorer performance seen in FY13 was reversed to some degree, but the gaps between the State and APS results remain significant.

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]


BREAKING – Atlanta Public Schools announces pay raises for district employees

June 26, 2014

In a press release issued by the Atlanta Public Schools a short time ago, the administration announced the final structure of pay increases for all employees in the district. The press release is below in its entirety.

 APS approves pay increase for FY15

 ATLANTA – Atlanta Public Schools (APS) has approved a cost of living pay increase for full-time APS employees during the FY2015 budget year which runs from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015.

 Effective July 1, compensation for full-time APS employees will be impacted as follows:

  • APS employees hired during FY 2014 will receive a one-time bonus of 1 percent up to a maximum of $500 
  • APS employees hired FY 2013 – 1 percent raise
  • APS employees hired FY 2012 – 2 percent raise
  • APS employees hired FY 2011 – 3 percent raise
  • APS employees hired FY 2010 – 4 percent raise; and
  • APS employees hired FY 2009 or earlier – 5 percent raise 

For employees whose employment ended with the district and have returned, their pay increases will be based on their adjusted start date. For example, if an employee departed the district in 2002, but returned in 2012, the employee would receive a 2 percent increase.

 “Our commitment was to closing the gap created by five years of frozen wages for employees,” said APS Superintendent Erroll B. Davis, Jr. “The purpose of the differentiated pay increase is to reward employees who have stayed committed to APS under challenging circumstances.” 

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]


Calmer heads call for a cease fire on APS/Beltline $19 million dispute

June 26, 2014

In the ongoing dispute between the Atlanta Public Schools and the Beltline over a $19 million debt owed to APS, which heated up when Mayor Reed jumped into the fray with some intemperate remarks (see here and here), the AJC reports that,

Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell is calling for a truce between city and school board leaders in an ongoing battle over debts owed by the Atlanta Beltline…Mitchell called for cooler heads to prevail in the multimillion dollar disagreement.

“We’ve got to move this issue forward and in a productive way,” Mitchell said, announcing his desire for council members to engage directly with APS board members to discuss how to support incoming Superintendent Meria Carstarphen and Reed. “I think right now the conversation really is at a standstill,” he continued.

Mitchell, who has not had a seat at the negotiating table with the city and school district, said it’s time to reach a compromise….Earlier this year, school and city officials began talks over settling the debt in other ways, such as by the city paying for broadband Internet in schools or cutting school water bills or police costs.

Mitchell said both the Beltline and APS are vital to the city’s future. He hopes the council can somehow play a role in negotiating a new agreement. …“We have to figure out a way to get these two issues aligned and I think it will take everyone putting their heads together and cooling down a bit and having significant dialogue,” Mitchell said.

“If the Beltline as a project fails …the tremendous investment this city, these citizens have made psychologically in this project will be for naught. We can’t let that happen,” he said. “If we get this issue wrong and hurt the school system, the work we have done will be for naught.”

Mitchell is not the only one calling for moving the negotiations forward and reducing the heated rhetoric. APS Chief Financial Officer Chuck Burbridge weighed in on the dispute and stated,

”We’d rather not be as confrontational but of course obviously if there’s two sides looking at a contract then potentially you do have to bring in a third party to help take a look at the language,” said Burbridge. He said it’s in the best interest of all parties, especially the Beltline, to resolve their differences sooner rather than later.

APS board member Cynthia Briscoe Brown, who also represents APS on the Beltline board, in an interview with WABE said,

“Nineteen million dollars would go a long way towards adding additional teachers so we are not interested in being difficult but we have a responsibility to the children of Atlanta to get this worked out.”…she hopes “personalities don’t get in the way of doing the right thing for Atlanta’s students.”

The Beltline project is an important addition to the City – and APS joined in support of the project by delaying the receipt of property tax revenues that the Beltline project promised. Just as important, the City of Atlanta was a party to the contract and essentially guaranteed the contractual payments. APS has offered a series of alternatives that give the City the opportunity to make good on its promise. However, the City has declined the offers made by APS.

It is now time for the City to stand by its commitment and for the City Council to push for a reasonable and appropriate solution to the mess. It is in the best interest of the City and the APS to reach a reasonable agreement that maintains the Beltline project and supports the education system in a manner that was promised long ago.

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]


GA Department of Education releases APS results on CRCT exams

June 25, 2014

The GA Department of Education today released the individual school district CRCT exam results and the Atlanta Public School district showed little to no improvement over last year.

The AJC reports,

The percentage of Atlanta Public Schools students passing high-stakes state reading and math tests in grades 3, 5, and 8 in general showed little change this year compared to last. That largely mirrors the two-year statewide trend.

APS passing rates in math continue to lag significantly behind passing rates for reading. That’s also in line with statewide trends. This year, nearly a quarter of APS 5th graders failed the state math test, compared to about 10 percent in reading.

And APS passing rates for non-high stakes tests—social studies, science, and English language arts—are significantly below those for reading and math. 

APS Testing and Assessment Director Joe Blessing said. “We’re pleased with our improvement over three years. But Atlanta public schools definitely has a long way to go.”

For the specific results by grade level, go here.

The AJC also reported that the results for each school will be issued in July.

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]


WSB interviews retiring Superintendent Davis

June 25, 2014

WSB’s Jovita Moore interviewed retiring Atlanta Public School Superintendent Erroll Davis – see here with video. The topics included the controversy over the debt owed to APS from the Beltline, the aftermath of the cheating scandal and what he would have done differently.

On the Beltline issue,

Davis, “We have a contract which we believe should be honored, which is simple as that,”…

Moore asked, “It seems like part of the mayor’s issue with this whole thing, almost like loyalty, he seems to feel like he was betrayed by you for bringing this up in this last hour,”

  Davis, “Our loyalty is to the children of this district and to the extent, that resources are due to them, we will vigorously pursue those resources,” Davis told Moore.

On the difficult period APS has had to endure due to the cheating scandal,

“It’s been a learning experience, and some of the things I learned were very unfortunate. I spent a good part of the last three years being quite angry at what adults have visited upon children,” Davis said.

And when asked if he would have done anything differently in the last three years, Davis responded,

“Clearly looking back, there are things I could have done better, different timing, different ways to implement decisions. I believe rather directionally we have made the correct decisions,” Davis said. 

On balance, Davis was a net positive for APS. He came in at a time when the system was in crisis due to the cheating scandal and a Board of Education that was in disarray. He quickly took steps to remove the teachers and administrators from the system and then began to restart a completely demoralized district.

However, as he often admits, he is not a K-12 education expert and the system often appeared to remain static as opposed to advancing forward. Some of this was likely due to a Board of Education that was internally divided and that was not capable of advancing an agenda that was focused on educational outcomes. At the same time, Davis seemed to always want to rely on improving internal systems (which never appeared to be accomplished) prior to being held accountable for results.

While the district benefited from his arrival – which was to be temporary at the time – the continued extensions of his contract was a mistake. My sense is that the initial 90 days (which could have even been extended to a full year) was the limit on Davis’ effectiveness and, subsequent to that time, he became a caretaker and not the innovator and driver of advancing the district forward.

Davis has had a distinguished career and his time at APS further enhances his achievements. He is now retiring for the third time – it is now time to set aside the policy disagreements and we should all wish him well and thank him for his service to the community.

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]


Atlanta Public Schools receives equity audit & disparities exist – but preconceived notions are likely wrong

June 24, 2014

The Atlanta Public Schools received the equity audit that was completed by Kevin Fortner from Georgia State University. The report is nearly 1,400 pages, but the text of the report is approximately 100 pages with the remainder being detailed data sheets. You can access the main report here or the entire 1,396 report here.

The report looked at five major categories of information and reviewed specific items under each major category. The items presented in the report are as follows:

Finance

  • Schools in South region appear to spend more [per student]
  • Grady and North Atlanta clusters spend less than average [per student]
  • Carver, Jackson and Washington clusters receive a greater than average share of resources

Facilities

  • Nine APS schools do not have playgrounds
  • Playground equipment varies widely by school (per 2011 report)
  • Number of science labs per school – North Atlanta had the highest number with 16 and Grady had the lowest number with 8. The remaining high schools had between 10 and 12 each.

PTA/Foundations – [the report specifically notes that the information reported is incomplete and caution should be used when interpreting the data.]

  • West region didn’t provide information on PTAs/foundations
  • South did not provide foundation information p. 32
  • 70% of responding schools had active PTAs; membership ranged from 2-800

School characteristics

  • North region has least experienced principals on average.
  • Average teacher years of experience lower in South region.
  • Teacher experience by cluster – The range is from a high of 13.7 years at Therrell & Douglas and a low of 11 years at South Atlanta and 11.6 years at Carver.
  • Washington cluster teachers had highest value-added scores; alternative school teachers had lowest value-added scores.
  • Student survey results: East, South regions rated most challenging learning environments.

Student characteristics

  • About 20% of students in East, North regions identified as gifted;
  • Gifted rates – 10% in South, West regions and charters
  • Remediation rates – 7.0% in North and East Regions – 10.0% in West and South Regions
  • State test results – North and East Regions average on CRCT 832; South Region 802 and West Region 810

As the report notes, there is a tremendous amount of variation among the schools and, while the report presents a lot of data that may lead the reader to certain conclusions, my sense is that far more study needs to be done to understand the correlations – and most importantly – the causation. As such, reaching conclusions that are based on the report’s data is premature at this time.

I would also add that I am very skeptical of the financial data included in the report and the related spending per student. There are some items in there that appear to be inconsistent with previously reported information. I am trying to get the underlying detail to confirm the accuracy of the data.

All in all, it is an interesting report that provides a lot of data for further consideration as the data provided is high level and a more detailed assessment is necessary before any solid conclusions can be formed.

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]


%d bloggers like this: