More background on APS principals leaving

June 2, 2015

As noted in yesterday’s post, APS announced the departure of four school principals. Toomer Elementary principal Nicole Jones has resigned and both Douglas High School principal Tony Burkes’ and Forest Hills Academy principal Anthony Howell’s contract were not renewed for next year.

In addition, South Atlanta High School – Law principal Charlotte Davis has resigned. An AJC article (see here) provides more background on Davis’ resignation:

South Atlanta School of Law and Social Justice Principal Charlotte Davis has resigned after a district investigation into alleged improper grade-changing…Davis signed off on at least 39 grade changes last spring, grade-change sheets obtained by WSBTV show. But Davis changed many more grades — several hundred — in a school with about 300 students, according to WSBTV. All but one of the grades were increased to 70, the lowest passing grade. In some cases, the new grades allowed students who earned numeric grades as low as 8 or 9 to pass.

The principal turnover rate continues to be high – 11.0% since August 2014 – but there has also been a process during which Superintendent Carstarphen has had to make some tough assessments and to get her team in place. With a full year to review principal performance,  I would assume that the team in place now is the team Carstarphen believes will help her drive the changes she is looking for.

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Atlanta Public School’s names Robert Morales as new CFO

May 30, 2015

Robert Morales

Robert Morales (credit FCS)

The Atlanta Public School’s named Robert Morales as the new Chief Financial Officer for the District. Mr. Morales currently serves as the CFO for the Fulton County Schools. Upon the ratification of his appointment by the Board of Education he will join APS on July 1.

Per his LinkedIn profile, Morales has served as CFO for the Fulton County Schools since 2009. The Fulton County District has a student population of over 93 thousand, over 12,000 employees and 100+ schools and facilities. As a comparison, APS has approximately 50 thousand students and 7 thousand employees.

Morales has a long history in public education and has served as CFO for the Cobb County School District, for the District of Columbia and for the Greenville County Schools in South Carolina. In addition, he worked at the Georgia School Superintendents Association and as Director of State Budgeting and Finance for the House Ways and Means Committee in South Carolina.

During his tenure at Fulton County, the District began its conversion to a charter system operating model and his experience will be very beneficial to APS as it now begins its transition to the charter system over the next several years.

As Superintendent Carstarphen leads the transformation of APS, I believe Morales will have a very significant impact. Over the course of the last several years I have often looked to how Morales presented budgetary and other financial information at Fulton County and used many of his presentations as a model of how it should be done. As an example, over the last several years, APS has presented budgetary information on a few PowerPoint slides and then, only one Fund at a time. In comparison, Fulton County has presented a consolidated Funds budget at the beginning of their budget process and provided extensive detail at the same time (see the initial budget book for FY16 here). If he brings this process to APS, it will be a welcome and important improvement.

In addition, Morales has led a financial team that appears to value cost effectiveness in schools operations. Per the GA Department of Education (see here), in FY14 Fulton County spent approximately $9.5 thousand per student. While this amount is higher than the average of $7.8 thousand per student for other surrounding Districts (Cobb, Gwinnett, DeKalb and Clayton), it is well below the $13.5 thousand APS expenditure per student.

Mr. Morales – your history of presenting extensive financial information and managing efficient operations will be a great asset to APS – welcome aboard!

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Atlanta Public School CFO Chuck Burbridge accepts position as Executive Director of the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund

February 26, 2015

chuck burbridgeThe Chicago Teachers Pension & Retirement Fund (CTPF) announced today that Chuck Burbridge will become the Executive Director of CTPF effective March 16th. Burbridge has served as the Chief Financial Officer for the Atlanta Public Schools since August 2007.

Burbridge will replace Peter A. Driscoll who has been serving as the Interim Executive Director for CTPF and who had previously announced he would be leaving  the interim position in March.

CTPF, with an administrative budget of approximately $10-12 million, manages the pension funds for the teachers in the Chicago school district and has assets under management of approximately $10.8 billion and actuarial liabilities of approximately $19.5 billion. The $9.5 billion actuarial funding shortfall leaves the pension plan at a 51.6% funded level. Burbridge will have his work cut out for him as he tackles the significant deficit in funding.

Per the press release,

“Our trustees are confident Mr. Burbridge’s extensive, senior-level financial experience in both the public and private sectors will be a valuable asset to the fund going forward,” said Jay C. Rehak, president of the CTPF Board of Trustees. “In addition, Chuck’s leadership and strong background working in Chicago and Illinois will help us navigate the many challenges and opportunities facing the CTPF in the current pension fund environment.”

“I’m excited to be leading the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund into its next chapter,” said Mr. Burbridge, the incoming executive director of the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund. “For more than 100 years the fund has been a key part of Chicago and the education community. I look forward to serving our 63,000 members and working with the trustees and the staff to ensure that our pension plan’s funding gets back on track, so we are able to deliver on the promise made to our members.”

In Atlanta, Burbridge has had experience with underfunded pension plans and has worked with the Atlanta Public School Pension Task Force to develop alternatives for enhancing the funding of APS’ portion of the City Pension Plan. Currently, APS’ portion of the City Pension Plan is only 20% funded and has an actuarial liability of approximately $530 million.

Per his bio at the APS website,

Chuck Burbridge joined Atlanta Public Schools as Chief Financial Officer in August 2007. Prior to moving to Atlanta, he served as Chief Financial Officer for the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s largest independent school district with approximately 700,000 students and an annual operating budget of over $7.5 billion. He has also held the Deputy CFO position at Chicago Public Schools, was also the Deputy Chief Financial Officer for Cook County in Illinois, and was the Chief Economist for the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission.

A Certified Information Systems Auditor, Mr. Burbridge received his Bachelors and Masters degree in economics for the University of Illinois. He is a member of the Council of Great City Councils and serves on the Microsoft K-12 Advisory Council.

I have had the privilege of getting to know Chuck well. He is a man of impeccable integrity, has a deep understanding of education finance and is extremely well liked by his staff, peers and the community at large.

We will miss his leadership in APS and we wish him well as he returns home to Chicago.

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Board of Education meeting today – 2 p.m.

February 2, 2015

The Board of Education will hold its regular monthly meeting today at 2:00 p.m. and the Agenda with supporting documents can be found on BoardDocs here.

The topics that will be discussed in the Work Session are,

  • An update on the Charter System Application and Cluster Planning by Angela Smith. The group considering the details of the implementation recently held its first meeting and Smith will present on update on the process (see presentation here).
  • There will be an update on the Title I Programs and follow up on the Title I Audits (see presentation here).
    Comment – As a general rule, the federal programs have been a mess for many years. Recently the department that administers the federal programs has been reassigned to the CFO’s office. There is a lot of room for improvement here and hopefully CFO Burbridge will be able to make some headway fast.
  • A school improvement plan, supported by a $3.7 million three year State grant (SIG), has been underway at Douglass High School. There will be an update on the status of the program (see presentation here).
  • CFO Burbridge will provide an update on the FY16 budget development (see here). Currently revenues are projected at $659.8 million – a $5.8 million increase over the FY15 revised estimate of $654 million (versus the original FY15 estimate of $657.6 million). Essentially for planning purposes, the revenues are flat with prior year budgeted amounts (see page 3 of presentation). Given the long list of priorities and the substantial cost to implement them, there will be a significant number of difficult choices to make in the upcoming budget discussions.

    Additionally, enrollment is projected to increase by 875 students over FY15. Based on the data provided (which only details out a net increase of 693 students), most of the increase in enrollment is at charter schools which accounts for an increase of 793 or approximately 11% over FY15.

  • CFO Burbridge will also provide the monthly financial update (see here). It appears that local tax revenues will be less than budgeted, but to a great extent the shortfall will be made up by increased QBE revenues. The expenditures are up – as was budgeted – but, it is unclear from the report if the expenditures are consistent with the increased budgeted amounts. However, General & Administration costs appear to be down over FY14 (subject to future timing differences).
    Comment– I will note that while the information presented is better than in the past, but until we have a comparison of the projected FY15 spending to the FY15 Budget (which has been revised), it is difficult to tell if spending is on track with the approved or amended budget.

The JDA Corporal Punishment is being merged into the JCDA Student Behavior Code (see combined policy here). This is the final reading and will receive final approval.

The Human Resource Personnel Report (see here) shows some interesting items, as follows:

  • 12 new teachers were hired and 23 teachers are leaving – 14 are resigning and 9 are retiring at the end of the year.
  • One new interim principal has been named – Shaundra Fears at CS King YWLA High School.
  •  One new interim assistant principal has been named – Jason Trimble at Connally Elementary.
  • Brian Mitchell, who previously announced his resignation as principal at Mary Lin Elementary, is on the list making it official.
  • Hope-Hill Elementary assistant principal Leah Goodwin has resigned effective immediately.
  • It is also interesting to note that two assistant legal counsels have resigned. This may be the start of a reduction in the Legal Department which was taken over by Glenn Brock last year at which time he promised a $1 million decrease in the cost of this operation.

There are four positions being reclassified, but it is unclear if the reclassifications will result in an increase in compensation for the functions. Comment – Remember that reclassifications and reorganizations have been the preferred method in the past for granting raises through bureaucratic means. My sense is that the new Administration will not do this, but it bears watching.

A number of contracts will also be considered and the contracts of note are as follows:

  • Contracts to Provide Mechanical Engineering Services – $600k – this appears to be route maintenance related, but you should be aware that completely fixing the HVAC systems across the district has an estimated cost of $77 million. It is likely the systems will be fixed over a two-year period and be funded from the SPLOST Fund. Additionally, as a result of the immediate need to fix the systems, the building projects that have not already started are likely to get pushed back.
  • Contract to Provide a Classification and Compensation Study – $135k – this study is being undertaken to assess the “pay parity” issue across the district. As a result of the pay freeze that was imposed in 2009, current employees did not receive any step raises. However, a new employee coming on board would be compensated at their experience level. This resulted in employees with similar experience being paid different amounts. The current estimate is that the “pay parity” issue will cost $12-15 million to correct the differential.
    Comment – I will note that paying $135k for this study is ridiculous – if this assessment could not be done internally with a couple of people from HR and Finance – it is time to reassess the talent pool in both groups.
  • Upgrade the Enterprise Resource Planning System (Lawson) – $3.0 million – this upgrade is absolutely warranted and will bring all of the system into the most recent software release (some of the components are very old).
    Comment – By making this expenditure, any excuses about “bad systems” hampering progress go away. From the time the system is upgraded, any system or data integrity issues will fall squarely on the shoulders of the current administration.
  • Contracts for Construction at Brandon Primary Center ($8.0 million), Long Middle School ($15.9 million) and Young Middle School ($9.3 million) –
    Comment – As I have noted in the past, Operations presents a Construction Status Update on a monthly basis. However, this Report is never timely updated to reflect the changes in cost of projects. As an example, the Long Middle School project was initially budgeted at $10 million (likely a placeholder at the start of planning). However, the Board is being asked to approve a contract for $15.9 million for the project (and the Construction Status Update does not reflect the change). Operations needs to report on a far more timely basis the actual estimated costs of the projects being considered – its failure to do so on the NAHS project caused a lot of controversy that could have been avoided with timely and accurate reporting.
  • Three “surplus” properties are being recommended for sale – the Butler Y Property ($350k), the Doane Street Property ($12k) and the Adair Facility ($412k).

It is likely an Executive Session will be held on matters of litigation – if decisions are reached, they will be reported out to the public.

See you all there at 2 p.m.

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More background on resignation of Mary Lin principal Brian Mitchell

December 6, 2014

As reported in the prior post, the AJC’s Get Schooled blog published the following quote,

“There is a division of parent support at Mary Lin and the ‘anti-Dr. Mitchell’ group has been extremely vocal and has had the ears of [Superintendent] Carstarphen and [Regional K-12 Executive Director of Schools David] White since the beginning of the school year.”

The noted division has been public now for some time and it appears that Mitchell’s frustration with the issue led to his resignation.

Last month, Mitchell posted the following statement on his principal’s blog at the Mary Lin website (emphasis added):

 It’s no Secret… – Posted by BRIAN MITCHELL at 11/8/2014

In an effort to be transparent with the community, I want you to know that it not a secret that there are a few vocal parents who do not want me to lead Mary Lin anymore. This small parent group meets with my supervisor monthly since last spring and discusses the things that are going wrong with my leadership and the school. A few weeks later, I receive feedback about these meetings. This is no way for me to be an effective leader. I have recently requested that these parent meetings cease after November. If this small, yet vocal group of parents still has issues, then they will have to bring it down to the school level and give me a fair chance of resolving the issues and complaints.

I would like to think that the majority of the parents and teachers are on board with what is happening at Mary Lin. I am strongly encouraging you to steer the unhappy parents my way so that I could work on their concerns in a timely manner. With over 630 students and over 1,000 parents, I know that it is unreasonable for everyone to be on board with what we are doing at Mary Lin.

Facebook threads of complaints do nothing to solve issues or concerns. I am looking for people to step-up and direct these unhappy parents my way so that I can address their concerns in a timely manner.

Unless I am missing something, we have the majority of the stakeholders with us. Remember, the best is yet to come.

Thanks for all you do,

Dr. Mitchell

More on this as it develops.

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Mary Lin Elementary School principal Brian Mitchell resigns

December 6, 2014

The AJC reported last night that,

Brian Mitchell, principal of Mary Lin Elementary School, announced Thursday he would be “taking his talents elsewhere” for the 2015-16 school year, according to a letter posted on the school’s website. According to the letter, his resignation is effective June 30, 2015.

District spokeswoman Jill Strickland said that APS has accepted Mitchell’s resignation and “appreciates his commitment to continue in his role through the end of the school year.” The search for a new Mary Lin principal will start early next year.

Mitchel posted his resignation letter on the Mary Lin website, the full text is as follows:

December 4, 2014

Dear Mary Lin Staff and Community,

The purpose of this letter is to inform you of my intentions for the 2015-2016 school year. My specialty is recruiting and retaining excellent teachers. I will be taking my talents elsewhere for the 2015-2016 school year.

It has truly been a pleasure serving the Mary Lin community since 1995. I am dedicated to working hard to make the rest of this school year successful for the students, teachers and parents. My resignation from the district will be effective June 30, 2015.

Maureen Downey, education blogger at the AJC also reported that many Mary Lin teachers support Mitchell and sent a letter to APS leadership in which,

…they supported Mitchell, and that the views of critics should not be heeded. They praised his leadership and said Mitchell had raised teacher morale.

 Downey’s post also contains a quote from a member of the Mary Lin community that indicates,

 “There is a division of parent support at Mary Lin and the ‘anti-Dr. Mitchell’ group has been extremely vocal and has had the ears of Carstarphen and White since the beginning of the school year.” 

Per the AJC, Mary Lin Elementary is a highly rated school in APS and it,

…received a score of 86.4 under the state’s school rating system, the College and Career Ready Performance Index. That’s higher than all but about 10 Atlanta elementary schools and significantly higher than the district’s average score of 67.1 for elementary schools.

Mitchell’s comment in his letter of resignation – “I will be taking my talents elsewhere” – may indicate that there may be more to this story than is currently being reported.

Updates as I receive them.

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APS appoints Marques Stewart as new principal of Harper-Archer Middle School

December 2, 2014

Marques Stewart – Photo credit KC NBC Action News

The Board of Education approved the appointment of Marques Stewart as the new principal of Harper-Archer Middle School effective on January 6, 2014.

Per Mr. Stewart’s LinkedIn profile (see here), he currently serves as a Master Principal with the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan and previously served as a Turnaround Principal for the same organization. Prior to that, he served as a Principal for two years in the Kansas City School District and as an Assistant Principal in the Tuscallosa City Schools. Stewart earned a BS and an M.ED. from Alabama State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri.

At the time he worked in the Kansas City School District he was the subject of a brief news report by Kansas City NBC Action news regarding the turnaround in the district – here is the 2 minute video.

In addition, when Mr. Stewart’s was appointed as a principal at the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan, they published the following profile.

Marques Stewart-Brenda Scott Elementary/Middle School

Marques Stewart was born in Wiesbaden, Germany and was raised in Pensacola, FL where he later graduated from Woodham High School in 1996. Upon graduation from high school he continued his educational career at Alabama State University in Montgomery, AL., where he received a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. He continued his pursuit of  acquiring a higher education at Alabama State University and received a Masters in Administration & Supervision and also acquired an Education Specialist Degree in Education Leadership. Currently Mr. Stewart is pursuing a Doctorate in Education Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri and is scheduled to complete in the Spring of 2013.

Mr. Stewart began his teaching career in Montgomery Public Schools in 2001 in Montgomery, AL and later within Selma City Schools in Selma, AL. In 2005, Mr. Stewart entered the field of administration in Lowndes County Public Schools in Hayneville, AL and served in various administrative capacities spanning from Reading Coach, Assistant Principal, Principal, and as a Middle School Education Specialist. During this time Mr. Stewart helped with the implementation of the Alabama Reading Initiative, Men in Motion mentoring program, wrote and secured several grant proposals, and assisted in the development of a new curriculum.

During the 2009-2010 school year, Mr. Stewart served in an administrative capacity within the Tuscaloosa City Schools system at Eastwood Middle School. Mr. Stewart joined the Kansas City Public Schools as Principal at Longfellow Elementary School in July 2010. He is extremely excited about being a part of the Education Achievement Authority and looks forward to assisting students in becoming college, career, and work-force ready. Mr. Stewart believes that there are no elevators to success, everyone must take the stairs.

Welcome aboard!

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