APS FY 14 Preliminary Budget – Budget Commission Makes Substantial Progress – Stalls on “Class Size” Issue

May 21, 2013

Yesterday, the Budget Commission met to review additional changes that were proposed over the weekend to the FY14 Preliminary Budget. The Administration proposed $2.5 million in new revenue related to the sale of certain school properties and also proposed a number of increases in spending and additional spending cuts. In summary, the new revenue number is $570.5 million, expenditures at $590.5 million and the use of the General Fund balance remains at $20.0 million.

The Administration is beginning to respond to the “class size” issue, but still has a ways to go before winning over approval from the Budget Committee. In addition, the Administration is finally beginning to provide justification for the increases or decreases in spending. The following are the major expenditure changes discussed:

  1. $1.0 million more in spending for an additional 13 to 14 EIP teachers.
  2. A $1.0 million reduction in the expenditures on Substitutes as a result of better monitoring how Substitutes are used in the schools.
  3. A $1.0 million increase for Media Paraprofessionals (this was an error in the original budgeting).
  4. Teacher furlough days reduced from 4 to 3, resulting in a $1.5 million increase in spending.
  5. The savings from Vacancy Management (essentially delay initial hiring for open positions or delay replacement of staff that resign during the year) has been increased by $2.5 million to $5.9 million. The deferred or delayed positions will only occur in Divisions outside of Direct Instruction.
  6. Additional savings in Custodial staff ($500 thousand), lower cost of implementing stronger security in the schools ($1.0 million) and reduced energy costs ($500 thousand).

A couple of the proposed changes were made to begin addressing the Budget Committee’s concerns regarding “class size”. However, it was clear that the Budget Committee Members were not satisfied that the Administration had gone far enough on resolving this issue and the meeting essentially ended at an impasse and a Preliminary Budget was not approved. The Committee requested that the Administration provide additional detail on the incremental cost of reducing the “class size waiver” from where it stands now (1-5 additional students over the State mandate).

Per CFO Burbridge, the cost of going to State mandated levels would be approximately $24.0 million. However, he also indicated that the incremental cost of reducing the “class size waiver” from 5 to 4 or 5 to 3 would be less than 20% or 40% of the $24 million as the reduction in the average class size would only affect Elementary and Middle Schools – High School staffing would not be affected. In the event the Board was to consider going below 3 incremental students per teacher, then the costs will increase towards $24 million as High School teacher staffing will increase.

As the final issue was not resolved, the Budget Committee will meet again next week to review the detailed “class size” cost information prior to passing a Preliminary Budget. It is also important to note that the Budget Committee requested that the Administration also prepare a proposal for expenditure cuts in areas other than Direct Instruction that would cover the increased spending for reducing class sizes.

It important to note that time is quickly running out and a Preliminary Budget must be passed by May 30 to meet the required deadlines.

In subsequent posts, I will write more about the possible resolutions to the “class size” discussion and also provide many answers to the questions I posed this past weekend.

APS – One Final Post on Behalf of Drew Charter High School

July 8, 2012

The main plank of the resolution before the Board to deny the Drew Charter High School is based on an often quoted number – 6,200 seat over-capacity in the high schools. In prior posts, I have questioned the relevancy of this number to the issue.  Why? If it is appropriate to use the entire high school over-capacity issue in the Drew case, then it certainly should have been relevant when the decision was made to build the new North Atlanta High School. But you say that is ridiculous – North Atlanta is overcrowded and had to have more space. And you would be right in saying so – the 6,200 is absolutely irrelevant to the North Atlanta High School decision. The decision had to be made based on the number of seats available in the local area. And for the same reason, the 6,200 number has no place in the Drew decision – it is simply irrelevant misdirection and not germane to the decision at hand.

What is relevant is that Jackson High School has a capacity of 1508 and a current enrollment of approximately 900 or 59% of capacity. When the argument is framed with the right numbers, then a whole new set of questions arise that no one seems to have addressed. Even if the Drew charter is denied, where are the additional 600 students coming from to fill up Jackson? My sense is that you hear the same crickets chirping that I do.  Clearly, denying the Drew the additional charter will do nothing to fill up seats at Jackson. But if Drew is granted the charter, will it increase the over-capacity problem at Jackson? The answer to this question is entirely in the hands of the APS Administration. Either they rise to the occasion and provide the best alternative offering or they retain oversight over a competitor that is more capable of delivering what the parents and students want.

If Jackson is better, then parents will gravitate there – if not, parents will go to the better alternative. So who wins if the charter is granted? In any reasonable outcome, the students and parents win as they will have additional choices and improved educational outcomes at either location. In addition, APS also wins by granting the charter. How? Either APS takes the steps required to improve its offering at Jackson (making the students winners as well) or APS becomes more cost efficient as it uses Drew as a proxy to deliver a high quality education to students in the Drew/Jackson area.

The 6,200 number is irrelevant and should be ignored and the focus should be on what are the best outcomes for all constituents. And when the relevant issues and questions are addressed, it is clear that the granting of the charter to Drew for a new high school is a win-win for students, parents, educators and the taxpayers!

APS – School Competition – Set Up Roadblocks & Bureaucratic Barriers or Embrace It?

July 2, 2012

APS schools are competing for students and the competition will increase as additional alternatives become available. Whether it is private schools, in-home schools or charter schools, parents that demand higher quality and more say in how their children are being educated will vote with their feet and choose the alternatives. The enrollment statistics show it and new legislation could accellerate it.

Up to now, parental choices have been limited by financial considerations (cost of private school), time (not enough to teach children at home) or public school systems that deny school charters (often in an effort to maintain control). However, with the public schools so often failing, parents are demanding more involvement and greater choice regarding where they send their children to school. Further, the ability to access high quality courses through the use of technology is placing ever greater pressure on public school systems that continue to see declining enrollment. In addition, as access to financial resources improves (vouchers, tax credits, etc.) parents will continue voting with their feet and leave the centralized and bureaucratic public schools in greater numbers.

As happens in any market that is controlled by an entrenched monopoly, the public schools are fighting tooth and nail to maintain control and the status quo. At the same time, if they rely on old answers that have proven not to work, they inevitably will lose the fight. And each time the public school system places its own priorities – entrenched bureaucracy and centralized control – over the priority of the student’s educational outcomes, the more parents will be angry and empowered. An example is of this is the new State Charter School legislation that was passed simply because the entrenched monopoly refused to issue a charter that was fully warranted by the facts. This is the new reality facing public schools in Georgia – approve valid charter applications and maintain some oversight over the charter schools in the district or lose the oversight to a State Board. Will this be the fate of the Drew Charter High School application?

APS continues to cite problems that would be caused by approving new charter schools (i.e. – competition), however the problems they raise tend to be of their own making or in direct contradiction to their espoused beliefs. Some examples are:

  1. Overcapacity is cited as an issue – however, the overcapacity problem was exacerbated by the Administration four years ago with the addition of three new high schools.
  2. During the last four years, APS has spent $40 million on “reform” initiatives to create smaller learning communities – but when faced with actually allowing the creation of a real smaller learning community (the 600 student Drew Charter High School) it balks and says it wants to spend $4036 million renovating Jackson High School with a capacity of 1508 students.
  3. The Administration says it wants more parent involvement, but spends a paltry sum on programs to enhance it. Worse yet, when the Drew parents show up in mass with facts that show the positive impact of their involvement – the Board of Education “stiff-arms” them with excuses.

What will the public school system have to do in this new competitive environment? As is the case in any market in which competition is introduced, they will have to improve their product or ultimately wither and die as consumers move to other alternatives. Either the public schools embrace competition and use it to spur significant improvements or they will continue to oversee a declining enrollment and failed results. Based on the attempted “reforms” to date, APS knows the answer – smaller schools with greater parent participation and control. However, each “reform” program APS has tried has failed. Why? The “reforms” have ultimately relied on centralized management and control versus decentralized responsibility for educational outcomes.

The challenges facing APS are massive. The Board of Education and Superintendent Davis have what may appear to be a difficult choice:

  1. Embrace competition and seek new ways to deliver a great education to the students; or
  2. Attempt to preserve a monopoly that is doomed to fail the students, parents and taxpayers.

They cannot have both. The Drew Charter High School vote this coming Monday should be a strong indication of their priorities and the direction they will take. Will it be the students who benefit or the entrenched monopoly exercising bureaucratic control?

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