Metro Atlanta KIPP Charter Schools names new executive director

July 26, 2014

KIPP Metro Atlanta charter schools announced,

 The board of KIPP Metro Atlanta has unanimously appointed Kinnari Patel-Smyth as its new executive director. Patel-Smyth is succeeding David Jernigan, who recently was approved by the board of the Atlanta Public Schools to serve as its new deputy superintendent…Kinnari will assume the role of executive director on July 28. “I am humbled to have this opportunity to serve our 2,500 KIPPsters as executive director,” Patel-Smyth said. “I look forward to building on the successes of the past 12 years.”

Patel-Smyth has served as the chief academic officer for KIPP Metro Atlanta over the past two years. Prior to joining KIPP, she taught in Atlanta and Fort Worth for six years and served as a principal and managing director of programs for Explore Schools in Brooklyn, N.Y., for eight years.

“We are thrilled that Kinnari is willing to step up to the challenge of leading our organization,” said Craig Jones, the KIPP Metro Atlanta Board Chairman.  “She has a proven track record with KIPP and has been a part of an intentional succession plan over the past two years.  This is a natural next step for Kinnari and for the organization, and the Board has complete confidence that she is the right leader to take KIPP Metro Atlanta to the next level of excellence.” 

This leadership transition comes at a time when KIPP Metro Atlanta is opening the final school in its eight school organization growth plan.  KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools continue to post exceptional academic results and has a very stable financial position. 

Congratulations!

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A review of FY15 traditional and charter school funding – disparity in favor of traditional schools still exists

March 21, 2014

With the release of the Atlanta Public School FY15 preliminary budget, it became clear that funding for charter schools would increase significantly as compared to last year. The current budget anticipates that the charter schools will receive approximately $71 million, or a $25.4 million increase over FY14. As charter school funding is often controversial – from both sides of the issue – a brief analysis of the spending will help clarify many of the issues regarding the funding for FY15. The data for the traditional and charter school funding in the chart below (click to enlarge). As you review the data, keep in mind the following key points:

  1. Charter school enrollment is up nearly 1,900 students in FY15 due to the conversion of Centennial Elementary, the opening of the Atlanta Classical Academy and the expansion of a number of existing charter schools.
  2. “Local Revenues”, which are the primary source of charter school funding, are up by approximately $39 million over FY14.

FY15 Per student spending 032114

Let’s start by looking at what is happening to traditional school funding in the top section of the chart. I have adjusted the total FY15 expenditures to remove charter school funding; any usage of General Fund reserves as the charter schools do not participate in them; and the pension liability as this expenditure does not benefit any student within the APS system.

After adjustment the spending on traditional schools remained level in FY13 and FY14 and then grew by approximately $35 million in FY15. And while expenditures were increasing in FY15, the projected traditional school student enrollment is declining by 875 students – this is consistent with the trend for the last several years. As a result of higher expenditures and lower student enrollment, the traditional school “per student spending” (PSS) is up $1,032 or 9.5% over FY14.

Now to the charter schools – as noted above, enrollment is up and the charter schools will also share in the increased local revenues. Based on a simple rate/volume analysis, $16.3 million (64.3%) of the $25.4 million increase in charter school funding is related to the higher student enrollment. The remaining $9.1 million balance of the increase is related to the higher local revenues.

The increase in charter school funding results in an increase in the “per student spending” for charter school students as well. In FY15, the “per student spending” is $9,937 as compared to approximately $8,642 in FY14. Please note that APS charges the charter schools a 2% administrative fee and this amount has been netted out of the calculation above.

As the numbers show – when comparing “apples to apples” spending, there is a substantial differential in the “per student spending” between the traditional and charter schools. And, as I have noted here on several occasions in the past, the differential is in favor of the traditional schools by nearly $2 thousand per student.

I anticipate that the standard arguments will be made as in the past – “charter schools are taking funds away from traditional schools” and “charter schools students are receiving more per student than traditional schools”. The “per student spending” numbers above completely debunk both of these arguments.

Regardless of what your position is on charter schools, I hope that you will keep these facts in mind as you press your position forward.

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Simama enters the blogosphere with “Nisha Simama – on education renewal”

November 18, 2013

Former Board of Education candidate Nisha Simama, who lost handily in the recent election to incumbent Courtney English by  a 23 point margin (61-38%) announced yesterday that she is starting an education blog titled Nisha Simama – on education renewal. As she notes in her blog Bio,

In 2013 she made an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Atlanta Board of Education where she ran into opposition from those who support privatization and corporatization of public education.”

Clearly, she has adopted the national mantra espoused by anti-charter school organizations and this could be an interesting perspective from an educator who now is working at the Paideia School, a private school in Atlanta that “was founded in 1971 by parents who wanted an individualized, creative, and intellectually challenging education for their children.”

Per her press release, the blog’s

…purpose is to “be a progressive and independent voice for those who have been silenced, rendered unimportant or invisible in educational ‘reform’ efforts underway in the metropolitan Atlanta area,”

From her first post, titled LIFT EVERY VOICE IN CHARTER SCHOOL DEBATE, Simama writes,

A so-called “reform” effort in public education is being led by those who believe that free market competition will provide better quality education and that the choices provided should be supported with taxpayer dollars. [Comment – public schools include traditional and charter schools – and both are supported with taxpayer dollars.]

Proponents argue that parents should be able to choose schools that fit the needs of their children. [Comment – this sounds eerily similar to why Simama’s current employer – the Paideia School – was formed.]  

Their ultimate goal, and this was crystal clear in the last local election in Atlanta, is to convert all public schools into public and private charter schools. [Comment – I followed the candidate’s statements very closely and I sure did not hear this – in fact, far from it.]

Research shows on average charter schools have about the same success rates as traditional schools. [Comment – it is interesting that Simama points to “research” instead of the actual experience here in Atlanta – I guess it does not fit the narrative.]

Simama goes on to say,

This blog is not anti-charters per se; there are good and bad charters, just like there are good and bad traditional schools. This blog is more concerned about the privatization and corporatization of public education and whose voices get heard in the debate. [Emphasis added]

At this point, I am very confused – is the blog addressing educational reform from a national perspective or as it actually is practiced here and on the ground in Atlanta? My confusion arises as the ‘privatization and corporatization’ labels simply do not apply to APS. For that matter, I would really appreciate it if someone would define how ‘privatization and corporatization’ labels do apply to APS. Maybe Simama will address this in her next post.

She then returns to asking some good questions,

…Where is the Academy in this discussion? Where are the researchers with the real data that expose the affects [sic] of poverty on educational outcomes? Where are the teachers’ organizations that defend teachers from attacks of being uncaring, overpaid, and incapable of helping kids learn? Where are parents who send their kids to low performing schools, but pray that somehow, someway, someday their children will be successful?

But then reverts back to listing out national organizations that raise the ‘specter’ of meddling with the “education bureaucracy” that has served us so well – including the cheating scandal and our 51% graduation rate in Atlanta.

We are facing unparalleled corporate involvement in public education today and it may come at a price—the loss of public education. Even worse, this rich-guy, politician muckety-muck venture into public education means that educational policy is being driven and influenced by individuals and corporations that know little, if anything, about education.

I guess the conclusion alluded to is that we must once again place our confidence in the entrenched “education bureaucracy” that has served us so well.

But then, and it took a while, I think we get to the real point of the article,

Many of these new corporate “reformers” claim to care about what happens to students and care about the future of our communities, while at the same time they provide low wages, inadequate benefits, and undesirable work schedules for their workers… Teachers need professional development, smaller class sizes, better pay and more promising work conditions.

My sense is that the focus is really all about teachers as a special interest group – and not about improved educational outcomes. It is also interesting to note that her opponent in the race campaigned heavily on many of the exact items Simama says teachers need.

If that is the case, then why was the election result so lopsided against Simama?  Voters clearly rejected the ‘national agenda’ scare tactics, rejected fuzzy ideology that was not specific to Atlanta and rejected generalized campaign promises without any specifics on improved educational outcomes.

As they say, read the whole thing here. And a link to her blog is included in the sidebar.

And Ms. Simama – welcome to the blogosphere – I look forward to reading your thoughts and – especially – commenting on them.

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Centennial Place conversion charter not moving forward – removed from BoE agenda

October 4, 2013

As of today, the Centennial Place conversion charter, which was scheduled for BoE approval this coming Monday, has been removed from the agenda.  Sources indicate that the teachers did not provide the required 50+% vote in favor of the conversion.


Moody’s Investor Service calls GA Supreme Court charters school ruling a ‘credit negative’ for APS

October 2, 2013

Moody’s Investor Service issued a report by Michael D’Arcy that characterized the GA Supreme Court charter school ruling as a ‘credit negative’. In its ruling, the GA Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that APS has improperly withheld approximately $2.8 million from the district’s charter schools for APS’ decade old unfunded pension liability. However, the ‘credit negative’ characterization did not result in the District’s bond rating being changed from its previous level. In the report, D’Arcy said,

The $2.8 million of revenue that [Atlanta Independent] will return to the charter schools as a result of the ruling is not a large amount for the school system, but the dispute underscores the larger issue of charter school funding in Georgia and the negative implications for public school districts …

As D’Arcy notes, the $2.8 million is a small portion of the total spent by APS and represents less than 1% of the total District’s budget.

Louis Erste, director of the state Charter Schools Division for the Georgia Department of Education, said

Given this APS-only scenario, it is therefore an overreaching and overly cautious statement by Moody’s that, ‘the ruling is a credit negative for…other K-12 public school districts in the state with an increasing charter school presence, because it bars districts from offloading a portion of their legacy costs onto charter schools,…

Only APS made an ill-considered decision in 2012 to suddenly deviate from the law on how to fund charter schools when it began to ‘offload… a portion of their legacy costs onto charter schools’ by illegally subtracting funds from their charter schools’ base funding to cover APS’s pension funding mistakes of the past, Erste said.

Administration officials indicated that they are looking at other alternatives to deal with the over $550 million unfunded pension liability that was incurred prior to 1982.

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Time to address some misconceptions associated with the charter school legal victory

September 25, 2013

This past Monday, the GA Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion (here) that upheld the lower court’s ruling that the Atlanta Public Schools could not deduct a portion of the unfunded pension liability from the local revenues due to the charter schools. As I reviewed the reporting and the legal briefs on the matter, there appear to be a number of misconceptions that have entered the public domain.

The following is an attempt to address each one that I have found so far.

Issue 1 – Starting at the top is the statement by Superintendent Davis, who consistently claims that the difference in the funding per student between charter schools and traditional schools is in favor of the charter schools. In an AJC article, Davis is quoted as saying,

“We are disappointed in the decision because it perpetuates a funding inequity to the detriment of traditional school students,” said Superintendent Erroll Davis. “Atlanta Public Schools will continue to pursue other options to resolve this growing disparity in funding for our school district.”

This is the same argument he made in August when he recommended to the BoE that no additional charters be granted until the pension liability issue was resolved as the payments had a disproportionate impact on traditional school student funding. At the time Davis made the recommendation, I was simply dumbfounded since the contention was simply not supported by the facts. However, after reading the legal briefs submitted to the GA Supreme Court by APS, I now understand why Davis said what he did – even though it requires a substantial leap of logic to get there.

Let’s go to the data first and follow the numbers on per student spending (PSS). The following chart is based on the FY14 budget that was adopted and student enrollment are based on the QBE reports submitted to the State this past April. Click chart to enlarge.

Per Student Spending 092513 v1

As shown in the chart, the PSS on the traditional school student is $12,974 versus the $10,013 spent per charter student, or a difference of $2,961 in favor of the traditional school student. It is important to note that the numbers used are before the current $1,071 PSS for the unfunded pension liability payment. In addition, the comparison is made prior to the addition of the PSS for Transportation and Nutrition as the charter schools are able to apply separately for these funds as well. In addition, I have not included the spending for building construction from the SPLOST fund which is not shared with the charter schools.

Please also note that the analysis comes out in favor of the traditional school students even if the Special Revenue Fund spending is taken out the mix.

Now given the numbers, as I noted above, Davis and the attorneys representing APS in the case before the Supreme Court are asking us to make the following logical leap.

First, we must assume the disparity in the PSS funding that is already in favor of the traditional school student by $2,961 represents the status quo and we should not consider this point any further in the analysis. Now that you have performed that leap of “magical thinking”, then without any context whatsoever, we must view the PSS of $1,071 spent on the unfunded pension liability as a reduction on what could otherwise be spent on traditional schools students.

If the administration had presented their argument in a fully transparent manner, it would have been along the lines of:

Netting out the pension liability payment of $1,071, we currently spend $12,974 per traditional school student versus $10,013 per charter school student. And at the highest projected pension liability payment, the $12,974 would be reduced by an additional $561 to $12,413, resulting in a disparity in favor of the traditional student of only $2,400.

It just doesn’t sound so good that way, and that is why the information presented in court and the statements made by Davis were completely out of context and misleading as the facts did not support their contentions.

Do I need to say it once more? OK – the PSS disparity is in favor of the traditional schools students – and not in favor of the charter schools students.

Issue 2 – The following line in the GA Supreme Court opinion has received some attention, which states,

“…it is clear from a reading of the statute as a whole that the intention of the General Assembly was to fund local schools unequally with regard to local revenue.” [Emphasis in original]

In addition, the GA statutes state,

“…local revenue shall be allocated to a local charter school on the same basis as for any local school in the local school system.”

The GA Supreme Court viewed the second statement as an indication of the general intent of the of General Assembly, but also noted that the General Assembly included the express provisions in the statutes that provide a methodology for calculating and then allocating funds to start-up charter schools. These provisions, by definition, will result in an unequal allocation of local revenue.

Why?

The statute requires the inclusion of certain local revenues in the calculation and excludes other local revenues (interest, bond sinking fund, E-rate, rental receipts, etc.) that might be received by a school district. In other words, the statute does not require a school district to take the total local revenues received, divide the amount by total enrollment (as weighted by a number of other factors) and then allocate the proportionate share to the charter schools. It is very specific in regards to what is included in the formula – and therefore, by definition, the amounts allocated will be unequal on a per student spending basis.

There is no discrimination or other sinister stuff here – it is simply math at work.

Issue 3While the next issue has not been brought up in the media, the APS brief filed with the GA Supreme Court presents some interesting information. While we knew that the pension liability has been around for decades, the brief establishes the point in time when the serious underfunding became apparent.

In 1982, most of the teachers and many other employees transferred to the Teachers Retirement System (TRS). TRS required that the benefits for the employees transferred to TRS be “fully funded”. As a result, a substantial portion of the assets held by City of Atlanta General Employees’ Pension Plan (Pension Plan) were transferred to TRS and the assets remaining in the Pension Plan were substantially below the level needed to pay for the benefits due to the remaining employees. Subsequent to 1982, the legal brief states that most employees were enrolled in TRS.

While I do not believe that it was the intent of APS’s attorneys to confirm that the charter schools have never received any benefit from the payment of the “unfunded pension liability”, their arguments confirm that this is the case. In testimony given by APS CFO Burbridge in the original hearing, he differentiates the amounts paid for current employees (primarily composed of janitors) and is referred to as “normal cost” (estimated at $2-3 million annually) and the balance which is the underfunded amount due to the employees who remained part of the Pension Plan in 1982.

Notwithstanding CFO Burbridge’s argument that payment of the unfunded pension liability benefits the “fiscal health” of the system as a whole, I am still trying to understand how any charter school student has benefited in any way from the employees who were part of the City Pension Plan prior to 1982 or from the current janitors that are still part of that Pension Plan and work for APS.

This argument may be important in the future as during the initial hearing in December, APS threatened to assess an “expense” against the charters in an equal amount in the event that they lost the case – which they did.

Issue 4 – Consistently I see in print that the charter school enrollment represents approximately 10% of the total APS enrollment. Based on an analysis of the QBE records filed with the State, the total charter school enrollment in FY14 it is estimated to be approximately 8.25%. In addition, due to the difference in the composition of the students enrolled in charter schools (charters have a lower proportion of Special Education and Early Intervention Program participants), the charter schools share of funding in FY14 is approximately 7.6%. 

Also, keep the chart above handy – there is a lot of additional very interesting information there that I will report on in the near future.

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GA Supreme Court affirms lower court ruling – charter schools win back $2.8 million in funds withheld by the Atlanta Public Schools [Updated]

September 23, 2013

In a unanimous decision, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the lower court ruling that was in favor of the charter schools and against the Atlanta Public Schools in regards to how charter schools in Atlanta are funded. Based on the ruling, APS improperly withheld $2.8 million from the charter schools.

The lower court ruled last December (link) that the GA statutes, which govern the methodology for allocating “local revenues” to charter schools, do not allow the Atlanta Public Schools to charge the charter schools for a share of the over $550 million “unfunded pension liability”.

In its ruling (see here), the Supreme Court agreed with the lower court’s reasoning and stated,

…we agree with the trial court that pursuant to the plain language of § 20-2-2068.1 (c), appellants are without authority or discretion to deduct the unfunded pension expense from their calculation of local revenue to be distributed to start-up charter schools.

… [the Atlanta Public School’s] subtraction of funds from the calculation of local revenue to cover a portion of APS’s unfunded pension liability circumvents the plain language of § 20-2-2068.1 (c) and deprives the start-up charter schools of funding to which they are legally entitled, we affirm the trial court’s order…  

…The proper remedy for appellants’ opposition to the language of the local revenue funding formula as written lies within the General Assembly.

[Added] Maureen Downy at AJC’s Get Schooled blog provides additional information and analysis here. AJC’s Mark Niesse reports on the story here.

Last year, APS informed the charter schools that the methodology for allocating “local revenues”, which is mandated under GA statutes, would be adjusted and the charter schools would have to share in paying for the over $550 million unfunded pension liability. The unfunded pension liability was incurred in the 1970’s. The APS charter schools sued APS and the initial hearing was heard by Judge Wendy Shoob in the Fulton County Superior Court. Judge Shoob ruled that the methodology used by APS was not consistent with the GA Statutes. APS, with the full support of the Board of Education appealed to the Supreme Court. For more background on the case, see here.

The East Atlanta Patch previously reported the following is the amount withheld per charter school (link):

  • Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School: $405,296
  • Atlanta Preparatory Academy: $291,068
  • Drew Charter: $578,514
  • Intown Academy: $190,063
  • Kipp: $785,724 (includes Kipp Strive, Kipp Ways and Kipp Vision)
  • Kindezi: $116,598
  • Latin Academy: $51,030
  • Wesley International Academy: $398,492

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