The Atlanta Public School Board of Education rejected the proposed maximum class size waiver of +5 by a vote of 4-4. As the proposal did not get a majority, the measure did not pass. Voting in opposition were Meister, Briscoe-Brown, Amos and Collins. Board member Lee was ill and not present for the vote.
Board member and Budget Committee Chair Westmoreland made the motion to accept the waiver and it was seconded by Grant. Upon the rejection of the waiver, Board member Grant – who voted in support for the +5 waiver – requested that the matter be reconsidered, however, under parliamentary procedures, a vote for reconsideration can only be made by one of the members voting against the measure. No further action on the item was considered by the Board prior to adjourning.
The Board also considered a FY16 waiver from meeting the 65% test which, under Title 50 of the Georgia statutes, mandates that 65% of a district’s expenditures be directed to specific in-classroom activities as defined by the statute. APS failed to spend more than 56.4% in both FY13 and FY14 and, based on the submission of a waiver for FY15; it is unlikely that the percentage in FY15 will increase much above the percentage reached in the last two years. The district can also pass the test if the level of defined expenditures increases by 2% over the prior year. The waiver was passed on a 5-3 vote with Meister, Briscoe-Brown and Amos in opposition. Board member Lee was not present for the vote.
As a historical note, the class size waiver typically has been passed in prior years shortly after the budget is prepared and the resource levels that will (or will not) be devoted to reducing class sizes is known. The 65% test waiver is typically not passed until near the end of the fiscal year when it can be determined that the waiver is needed. The consideration of both of these waivers now is highly unusual and some the Board members questioned the need to do so in advance of the FY16 budget discussions in the spring.
While there was extensive discussion on both topics, my sense is that the three most important paraphrased quotes are as follows:
- Superintendent Carstarphen – We agree that changes need to be made… We are not prepared to move on these changes now… What we have not seen is a coordinated, thoughtful and informed effort [to address both of these issues]. There isn’t a plan – if we are going to change, we need to be strategic about it.
- CFO Burbridge – [if the waiver is passed] the FY16 preliminary budget will be prepared using the +5 maximum class size.
- Board member Meister – I have faced this decision for five years … and there are always data integrity issues. It is now time to draw a line in the sand for the sake of the kids. I know it will be tough and hard to eke out a 2% increase and a waiver of +3. If we as a Board don’t do it now [when will it happen]?
I have carefully reviewed the taped discussion (see here on livestream) to find the compelling reasons why each of these waivers needed to be passed now instead of passing them after a full and complete set of discussions on the FY16 budget that incorporates these two items. The only reason that was in any way articulated was that the waivers should be passed now for expediency reasons and to get them out-of-the-way.
And in many ways, Carstarphen’s remarks in support of the passage of the waiver almost seemed to provide the compelling reasons not to pass them last night. As noted above, she stated that APS has not seen a coordinated, thoughtful and informed effort on these matters and there isn’t a plan.
Well, isn’t that what the budget process is all about? Shouldn’t the two waivers be part of the ‘coordinated, thoughtful and informed effort’ that is the budget process? If there is no plan now, shouldn’t there be an effort as part of the budget process to create a plan to address both class size and allocation of resources to in-classroom activities?
My sense is that bringing both of these items before the Board now – and far in advance of actually taking these items into consideration during a budget process – was ill-conceived and “expediency” was an insufficient justification.
I also believe it is unfortunate that the 65% test waiver was passed. Based on my assessment of the numbers (none of which were presented last night), I believe that there is sufficient justification for passing the 65% test waiver in the future. However, the administration did not provide any compelling justification for passing it now and it certainly did not provide any numbers that would support their reasoning and clarify their position on the issue.
Further, I challenge any Board member that voted FOR either waiver to articulate a compelling reason why they had to be passed last night and why they could not wait until after a complete and thoughtful discussion on the FY16 budget priorities and expenditure allocations was completed in the spring.
A full and complete discussion on both waivers should be held within the context of available resources and their allocation based on the Board’s priorities. That is what the budget process is all about, and that is when the decisions on the waivers should be made.
I believe that the Board made the right decision to defer the decision on the class size waiver to a later date. Meister was right when she said it was time to “draw a line in the sand …if not now, when?”
The Board campaigned on and was elected to make tough decisions in favor of improving educational outcomes. And while the tough decisions still have to be made, they should be made as part of a budget process and not solely for reasons of expediency.